European far right

The analysis piece we ran in yesterday’s paper about the threat populism poses to European integration has gotten so much feedback, that I thought I’d post more on the interview I had with Dutch European affairs minister Ben Knapen, which helped inspire it.

As mentioned in the original piece, Knapen is highly critical of officials — including José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission — who argue that populist sentiments should be marginalised or ignored by European leaders. Instead, he thinks Brussels should take such concerns more seriously than they are now.

In fact, Knapen singled out Barroso in our interview, which Dutch officials tell me is a bit of pushback to recent comments Barroso made urging European leaders to “not give in to the populists or extremists” in upcoming EU budget negotiations, remarks picked up by the Dutch press. Said Knapen: 

If it were not funny, it would be tragic.  The UK Conservative party’s decision to quit the European People’s Party (EPP), the main centre-right political group in the European Parliament, is backfiring on the Tories in spectacular fashion.  The decision was always daft – a bit like the right wing of the US Republican Party splitting off and forming a minority group in Congress – but it now looks more short-sighted than ever.

On Tuesday the Tories relinquished the leadership of their new “anti-federalist” faction, the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to Michal Tomasz Kaminski, a Polish politician.  They felt obliged to do so after Edward McMillan-Scott, a Tory MEP, refused to respect a deal in which Kaminski had been promised one of the parliament’s prestigious vice-presidency posts. 

The composition of the newly elected European Parliament, which holds its first session next week, will make many Britons hang their heads in shame.  For British politicians are either poorly represented, or not represented at all, in the 736-seat assembly’s three biggest political groups: the centre-right, centre and centre-left.  By contrast, Brits dominate the Eurosceptic and far-right fringes.

The loss of British influence in the parliament, which has a say in most European Union laws, will be substantial.  The likely damage to Britain’s reputation in Europe can only be guessed at.