Cameron’s Tories Gain in EU Parliament at Expense of UKIP

For U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, a loss at home in European elections is turning into a win abroad.

Two weeks after being routed by Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party in elections to the European Parliament, the Tories are poaching UKIP allies from other countries in the 751-seat assembly.

That, plus a possible tie-up with new anti-euro lawmakers from Germany, might turn the group to which the Tories belong in the European Union assembly into its third largest from fifth biggest. The Tory-backed faction, called the European Conservatives and Reformists, would leapfrog the Greens in fourth place and the No. 3 pro-business Liberals.

“We hope to be within striking distance of third place,” James Holtum, a spokesman for the ECR, said today by telephone. “Our goal is to continue to grow the group and its influence. We are confident that we will be bigger in this Parliament.”

The rise of the ECR’s fortunes highlights the greater spoils to be won in an assembly that will have more members from protest parties across the 28-nation bloc. In all, fringe parties in the May 22-25 elections won about 30 percent of the Europe-wide vote, up from 20 percent in the outgoing Parliament.

With the incoming assembly preparing to start business on July 1, the ECR has acquired 10 non-British members including six Danes and Finns from parties that belonged to the UKIP-backed Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, according to Holtum. That has pushed the ECR’s provisional membership total to 55, four less than the Liberals’ estimated size.

First Seats

In addition, the ECR expects to bring a Dutch member of the EFD on board and has received an application from the seven members of the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party, which won its first seats last month.

That possible ECR total of 63 would trail only the Socialists with 190 seats and the Christian Democrats with 221, according to the latest results for those two groups.

Meanwhile Farage, the head of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy alliance, is scrambling to keep it from being wiped out by a rule that a group must have at least 25 members from a minimum of seven countries. With UKIP alone having 24 members in the incoming EU Parliament, the threat to the EFD is from the minimum-country threshold.

Farage’s EFD has also lost members of Italy’s Northern League after they decided to team up with Marine Le Pen’s anti-euro, anti-immigration National Front, which came in first in France. Le Pen is seeking to create a group of her own and has kept the door open to Farage.

Speaking Slots

Groups in the EU Parliament have more legislative clout and receive more funds than do non-aligned members. Groups are also guaranteed prime-time speaking slots in the Strasbourg, France-based assembly.

While a No. 3 ranking for the ECR would be a political boost for the Tories, who yesterday held off a UKIP challenge in a special election for a national parliament seat, it wouldn’t necessarily help Cameron in his bid to derail the candidacy of former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker for European Commission president.

Cameron, at risk of being outvoted by other national leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who support nominating Juncker as the next head of the EU’s executive arm, would then have to try to muster a majority of the bloc’s Parliament against the Luxembourger.

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