Euroscepticism set to rise in Parliament
European Voice - 5 February 2004
EUROSCEPTIC parties could achieve a major breakthrough in the first legislature of the enlarged European Union.
With a new anti-EU party in Sweden set to contest the European elections in June, and a rising number of 'EU-critical' parties in the ten future member states, some in the assembly are bracing themselves for "an injection of Euroscepticism", as one high-ranking official put it.
"The biggest problem for the Parliament is not so much the rise of the far-right, which is also troublesome, but the prospect of a big Eurosceptic group," he added.
"What identity would the European Parliament have, if many of its deputies are against the EU and working to diminish its powers? It would be a political crisis."
According to estimates from inside the Parliament, a future Eurocritical group could amount to up to 150 MEPs.
Its core would be the existing Europe of Democracies and Diversities group. It currently boasts just 18 members, yet its charismatic leader, veteran Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, picked up almost 100 votes in the 2002 race to be president of the Parliament, eventually won by Irish Liberal Pat Cox.
Polls predict that the new Eurosceptic party in Sweden, led by economist Nils Lundgren and former head of the Bank of Sweden Lars Wohlin, could win five of the country's 19 seats in the 2004-09 legislature.
The Euro-critical 'sovereignists' in the 23-strong Union for Europe of the Nations group are also expected to make widespread gains - and particularly in France following the conviction of Alain Juppé, a leading figure in Jacques Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement party, on corruption charges.
Parties classed by one EPP insider as "EU-frigid" are growing stronger in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia.
The Eurosceptic current is also on the rise in the UK Conservative Party: notoriously 'Eurocool' MEPs Geoffrey Van Orden, Chris Heaton-Harris and Charles Tannock top the lists, while Europhiles, such as Roy Perry, are at the bottom.