Fianna Fail MEPs defect to liberal group

Irish MEPs defect to liberal group

PHILIPPA RUNNER, 02.03.2009, EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - MEPs from the ruling Irish Fianna Fail party are set to join the liberal group in the European Parliament after the upcoming EU elections.

"We will soon advance a proposal to join, for the first time, a pan-European party - the European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Party [ELDR]," Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen said at a Fianna Fail congress in Ireland on Friday (28 February).

Brian Cowen - made the announcement on Friday (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"Following June's election, should everything progress as expected, we will then consider joining the parliamentary group [ALDE] to which the ELDR is affiliated."

Graham Watson, leader of the liberals in the European Parliament, welcomed the potential new recruits.

"I am certain that any application from Fianna Fail to join the Liberals & Democrats will be well received. Fianna Fail MEPs would have no difficulty integrating into our group after the forthcoming European elections," he said in a statement.

Four Fianna Fail deputies currently sit with the right-wing Union for European of the Nations (UEN) group in parliament, which has 43 deputies in total.

Irish Fianna Fail MEP Brian Crowley is co-chair of UEN, together with Cristiana Muscardini from Italy's "post-fascist" Alleanza Nazionale party.

The move would swell ALDE's membership from 103 to 107 MEPs. But it would not bode well for the UEN. Alleanza Nazionale has also announced plans to leave UEN in order to join Italy's ruling Il Popolo della Liberta party in the centre-right EPP-ED group.

The departures would put UEN on just 31 MEPs. The minimum number of deputies needed to sustain a group is 25.

The centre-right, pro-Lisbon treaty Fianna Fail sits in the UEN group with Poland's eurosceptic Law and Justice Party and Italy's anti-immigrant Lega Nord.

The UEN is also home to more severe right-wing politicians, such as two former members of Poland's nationalist League of Polish Families party and Denmark's hard-right Dansk Folkeparti.

The Irish Taoiseach said ELDR "works hard to respect the views of smaller countries" and that the new partnership will "strengthen our voice and that of all people who believe in a Europe of states working closely together."

With the Fianna Fail government under attack in Ireland amid the unfolding economic crisis, it is uncertain how many MEPs the party will send to Brussels after the EU elections, however.

Brian Cowen's personal approval rating is just 21 percent, according to an Irish Independent poll on 28 February. About 120,000 people protested against the government on the streets of Dublin a week ago.