Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR

Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 21 February 2024 14:32
The centre-right European People’s Party will officially nominate Ursula von der Leyen as its lead candidate for the European elections at its congress next month (Photo: European Parliament)

Launching her official campaign for a second mandate at the helm of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen has rejected collaboration with extremist parties while leaving the door open to working with rightwing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group — which is projected to achieve big wins in June.

When asked whether she would be willing to work with the ECR, von der Leyen said that she would with any group that is "pro-European, pro-Nato and pro-Ukraine".

"Every European election brings a change in the composition of different political parties and political groups, so the content counts," she told the press alongside EPP leader and fellow German, Manfred Weber, after she was confirmed as the European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate to become the next commission president.

"Those who are defending democracy against eurosceptics and those who defend our values against [Vladimir] Putin’s friends are the ones I want to work with and I know I can work with," she added.

Weber, for his part, said that the EPP "red lines are clearly defined" — yes to Europe, yes to Ukraine and yes to the rule of law. "This is our red line to all extremists."

But he also added that polls indicating a significant swing to the right in the EU parliament are "worrisome".

"Those who are campaigning against Europe and are friends of Putin are getting stronger and stronger," he warned.

While mainstream pro-EU parties are likely to remain the majority, forecasts for 2024 show that the two biggest gainers will be the ECR and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which could make up nearly a quarter of the chamber combined.

With the Reconquête! party of French far-right leader Éric Zemmour and other potential groups joining the ECR, the group potentially could become the third-biggest party in the EU parliament.

Under this scenario, the group would have more power to shift the whole political balance to the right and centre-right, away from the centre-left, and "be included in the machinery of the European Parliament," an ECR source speaking on the condition of anonymity told EUobserver.

The ECR is currently the fifth-largest group in the hemicycle — having 68 MEPs out of a total of 705, including MEP Nicolas Bay, who joined the group earlier this month.

They had 62 MEPs at the previous election 2019, but they gained six more after the redistribution of the UK’s seats in 2020.

The group is clearly dominated by Polish MEPs (27) and Italian MEPs (10) — with the parties of former Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki (PiS) and Georgia Meloni (Brothers of Italy) as co-chairs of the ECR.

But potential changes could take place after the elections.

Prime minister Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party is expected to join the group — but this could prompt Flemish nationalist NVA or the Czech delegation to leave the ECR.

The far-right Swedish Democrats have also threatened to quit the ECR, if Fidesz joins, complicating an already cloudy set of possible outcomes after June.

Eurorealism vs Rule of Law

The ECR was founded in 2009 as an ‘anti-federalist’ alternative to the mainstream centre-right EPP by the British Conservative party and its allies.

In the 2009 Prague Declaration, the group defined position as "eurorealism" but they were widely seen as ‘soft’ eurosceptics since they argued mainly against EU over-regulation and in favour of national competencies.

And they have always insisted there are fundamental differences between the ECR, and the overtly hard-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group which was launched after the last EU elections.

But potential new MEPs, such as Fidesz lawmakers, could drive the ECR party line further to the right.

In the past, the group faced controversy involving some of its member parties or individual politicians.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has recently triggered protests across the country against its mass forced remigration plans, was briefly a member of the ECR.

And the ECR expelled German AfD MEP Marcus Pretzell in 2016 over comments about shooting migrants.

Poland’s PiS, a key member of the ECR, has been accused of dismantling the rule of law in the country — with several controversies ranging from restricting press freedom, undermining the judiciary, a nearly total abortion ban to attempts to introduce so-called ‘LGBT-free zones’ and supporting coal-based energy production.

While the PiS lost October’s domestic election in Poland, it maintains support among certain parts of the Polish population.

In 2014, the ECR also accepted the radical anti-immigration populists of the Danish People’s Party and the Finns Party. Both left in 2019. The Danish People’s Party joined the far-right ID and the Finns Party rejoined ECR in 2023.

The ECR is clearly pro-Nato and pro-Ukraine, yet the extent to which the EPP can agree with ECR members’ stance on the rule of law remains to be seen.