Biffo - CC / Flickr
Biffo - CC / Flickr

Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced on Friday that the MEPs from his party, Fianna Fáil, will join the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) group in the EP after June’s elections. Graham Watson, currently leader of ALDE, has welcomed the idea, as reported by EUObserver.

But let’s look at this for a moment. Fianna Fáil’s MEPs currently sit in the UEN group in the European Parliament, a rather right wing bunch that contains luminaries such as Law & Justice from Poland, the party of the Kaczyński twins, and Alleanza Nationale, the Italian post-fascists. There have been ideas before that Fianna Fáil should leave the group but it now looks like it will actually happen. But what about the idea to join ALDE? Is this not going from one extreme to the other? I don’t reckon that Cowen and his party have that much in common with the UK’s Liberal Democrats or even, for that matter, with the FDP from Germany who also form part of ALDE.

The real problem here, I suspect, is that Fine Gael, the main opposition party in Ireland, is already a member of the EPP-ED group in the European Parliament, and it would be the EPP-ED that actually has an ideology closest to Fianna Fáil. Yet for reasons of Irish politics it would be impossible for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to be in the same political group in Brussels; if any party should be joining ALDE it should be Fine Gael.

[UPDATE] More from N Whyte here, although he welcomes the move. I don’t. Strikes me that ALDE’s pursuit of more MEPs will result in less coherence in the group.

[UPDATE 2 – 9.3.09] Seems that Fianna Fáil’s Brian Crowley is none to happy with Biffo’s statements, seeing his own political career (as co-leader of the UEN) about to hit the wall in the EP as a result. He’re a quote from his interview with Euractiv. Sour grapes?

I think the UEN has worked well for Ireland and for Fianna Fáil, we’ve been able to deliver policy at a European level, partly because I’m the leader. If I weren’t the leader, if I were part of another group, would we be able to do that?

6 Comments

  1. SF are further left (at least in their rhetoric) than the SDLP anyway. The SDLP fit into the PES in their political philosophy. So I wouldn’t personally fit them into the same group anyway.

  2. Yes, the winding up of the PDs has been delayed.

    I don’t understand how FF is making a mockery of European Parliament political groups – surely such groups make a mockery of national politics? Most of the English-speaking world lacks any traditional opposition between Catholic corporatists and secularist economic liberals – in the UK these people share the Tory party (in Australia they shared the NSW branch of Labor … 😉 )

    The only actual cross-border political party in the EU turns out to be the Sinn Fein; the groupings existing at EU level are otherwise pretty artificial, apart from the Christian Democratic EPP. Were it not for EU funding, these groupings wouldn’t exist (the Shinners on the other hand can avail themselves of that dubious exception for Northern Ireland in the PPERA 2000 and be funded by Americans (New York Irish Catholics, Colombian narcoterrorists, etc, etc); the Tories may be able to tap such sources as well now that they’re linking up with the UUP).

    Since political parties are expected to “stand” for ideas which transcend particular policy questions (which is useful for determining the likely effect of one’s vote on policy questions unforeseen at the time of the election), it is in practice very difficult to persuade people to choose between two parties which oppose each other in one parliament but which will share a whip in another. So FF needs a group separate from FG, Labour and Sinn Fein. The Border further complicates things as FF and the Shinners can’t sit with unionists of any stripe, and the Shinners can’t sit with the SDLP.

  3. Did the PDs cease to exist yesterday? I thought it had been delayed a bit due to some legal technicality. Something to do with the accounts?

    I agree that FF is Gaullist-ish. But they suit the Liberals better than the other parties of the UEN in terms of their European views. FF is quite integrationist and pro-Europe/pro-EU (outside foreign policy). Since family law remains in the hands of member states, I don’t see the need for it to affect their group membership.

    At least all this gives the Conservatives somewhere to go.

  4. @Keith – excellent, thanks for the comment. You’ve added more background to the FF policies than I know as I don’t follow Irish politics so closely.

    I think the ALDE position is the same as any other political group in the EP – expediency at the start. Get more MEPs and henceforth get more juicy jobs in the next Parliament. Also few of the good jobs going to ALDE MEPs will go to FF as they are a new member party. Problem will then be after two and a half years when things change in the EP people will then wonder what best to do with the FF MEPs…

  5. FF are Gaullists, plain and simple. They wouldn’t really fit into EPP or PES either. They are narrowly nationalist populists.
    They tried to join the ALDE through the back door a few years ago by having their youth wing attempt to affiliate with ALDE’s youth wing. That move was blocked by Ireland’s Progressive Democrats. However, as of yesterday, that party doesn’t exist any more, so FF’s route into ALDE was back open again.
    I do find it strange that ALDE would accept a party that is pro-life, opposes anything but the most stringent rules on divorce, has refused to legislate on civil unions and kept contraception and homosexuality illegal in Ireland until the early 1990s.

  6. The problem has always been Fine Gael. The two parties are extremely similar; the division is really only down to the Civil War.

    Fianna Fáil may suit the EPP better than the Liberals, but they suit the Liberals more than they suit the UEN. I’d welcome this move too (I was hoping for this actually – it’s kind of an embarrassment that they were in the UEN to begin with). Fine Gael would be a bit more to the right than Finnia Fáil, so it wouldn’t be a massive distortion.

    FF isn’t moving from one extreme to the other. The UEN never represented FF’s views (indeed, I don’t think it has any views, it’s more a group of convenience), and the group is moving far more to the right than FF is. FF was never really UEN material to begin with.

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