The handling of whether Declan Ganley's private company Libertas, already masquerading as a pressure group in Ireland, should be allowed to register as a European political party and gain public funding, has been completely farcical.
On Monday, the European Parliament’s Bureau, made up of the President and the 14 Vice-Presidents, examined their application. To qualify for funding as a European political party, an organisation must have elected representatives in he national parliaments or in the European parliament in at least one quarter of the member states. Libertas claimed to have that, producing signatures from just 7 countries - all elected originally for other parties.
The bureau decided to approve the application. Although it seems perverse to award public money and recognition as a pan-European party to an organisation that has no members and has never put up candidates in an election before, the bureau presumably felt that they Libertas met the formal criteria. The decision at least allowed the Parliament to avoid any charges of bias against eurosceptics.
Since then, the waters have been distinctly muddied. First, an Estonian Liberal MP, Igor Grazin, who was one of the signatories to establish Libertas, and whose party is already affiliated to the European Liberal Party, denied having signed any such papers. Yesterday, he was joined by Bulgarian MP Mintcho Hristov. So far only one of the alleged supporters (Finnish MP Timo Soini) has admitted to having joined Libertas, stressing that he had joined in a "personal capacity" and that his national political party were definitely not affiliates!
There are also questions about the other alleged signatories. One, Lord Alton of Liverpool is a (crossbench) peer in the House of Lords and is therefore not elected, while the three MEPs (Phillippe De Villiers, Jean Marie Couteaux and Georgios Geourgiou) are all currently members of the IND-DEM in the European Parliament and,will, presumably be campaigning under that banner in the European elections this June.
The leaders of the political groups (Conference of Presidents) today took the only sensible decision and requested the Bureau to suspend the decision, pending an investigation of the signatures. If they are indeed false, it would amount to an attempt to defraud the taxpayer.
But the controversy over the signatures is still only part of the problem. In my mind, there is clear conflict if members who are affiliated to one party can simultaneously affiliate to another to get extra funding. It would effectively mean that, if I wanted to, there is nothing to stop me and a six colleagues from other countries, maybe all from the Socialist Group, setting up our own "party", and instantly gaining access to some 200,000 euros of taxpayers’ money for campaigning purposes, even if we intended to stand for our original party and not the new one!
It would be astonishing if the Bureau had approved Libertas’s application without verifying that signatories were genuine and without taking legal advice on whether a member affiliated to one party is able to count as an affiliate for another. If this is the case, then they have let down parties with genuine members and potentially wasted public money on an organisation that is really nothing more than a phoney pressure group.Post date and time
Labels: elections, European funding, eurosceptics, far-right group, Ireland