Polish extremist Michal Kaminski's resignation from the Law and Justice Party has opened up a power vacuum in the ECR, David Cameron's far-right European Parliament grouping, reports Left Foot Forward's man in the corridors of power in Brussels, Ben Fox.
In 2005 during the Conservative leadership contest, David Cameron secured the support of a number of eurosceptics by promising to withdraw the Tory MEP delegation from the centre-right European People’s party. After the 2009 European elections he finally made good on his promise, setting up the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR).
This group included the Polish Law and Justice party (PiS), the Czech ODS and a handful of single issue MEPs which included anti-semites and, in Latvian MEP Roberts Zile, a defender of the Waffen SS. Nick Clegg described the ECR as a group of ‘nutters, antisemites and homophobes’.
Polish MEP Michal Kaminski became leader of the ECR, despite the fact that he had links to the extreme-right in his younger days, had made homophobic statements and had disputed the massacre of Jews during the Second World War.
Now Kaminski has resigned from the Law and Justice party on the grounds that the party has become – wait for it:
“… taken over by the far right.”
He has, instead, set up a new party and brought with him Marek Migalski MEP and Adam Bielan, a vice-chairman of the ECR. This poses a number of problems for the ECR and is a major embarrassment for Mr Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague.
Kaminski remains the leader of the ECR despite the fact that the remaining PiS MEPs consider that, since he is no longer the leader of their delegation, he has no mandate to lead the ECR. If he refuses to step down then the PiS MEPs may well leave the ECR, leaving the group smaller than the Greens and marginally larger than the far-left and communist bloc of MEPs.
If Kaminski does stand down, who are the runners and riders to replace him?
Since Kaminski has taken vice-chairman Adam Bielan (who would have been a natural successor) with him, the only other senior members of the ECR are veteran Conservative MEP Tim Kirkhope, who has been leader of the Tory MEP delegation on several occasions, and Jan Zahradil of the Czech ODS.
The most pragmatic choice would be to replace Kaminski with Kirkhope, who was expected to lead the ECR but was forced to stand aside in favour of Kaminski when Edward McMillan Scott, then a Tory MEP, stood against and defeated Kaminski to become a Vice-President of the Parliament.
At the time, Kirkhope stood aside to avoid the collapse of the group, with one Tory MEP stating that “the Polish were very angry”. With the PiS delegation now on the verge of a major split and Kaminski having left, will they still insist on retaining the leadership of the group? If not then the Tory MEPs, as the largest delegation in the group, will naturally expect to have the leadership of it.
In which case, the smart money has to be on Kirkhope or on the current leader of the Tory MEPs. As Left Foot Forward reported yesterday, Martin Callanan (not known for being one of the most effective or intelligent of Tory MEPs) has just been elected as leader of the Tory MEP delegation of 25 MEPs.
Many of Callanan’s views verge on the neanderthal.
Last May he was the only Tory to vote against a resolution on women in the developing world which called for rape and sexual violence to be recognised as a war crime, while just two month ago he voted against an immediate world-wide moratorium on the death penalty.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.