By Bruno Waterfield
Plans to eliminate Eurosceptics as an organised opposition within the European Parliament are expected to be agreed by a majority of MEPs this summer.
The European Union assembly’s political establishment is pushing through changes that will silence dissidents by changing the rules allowing Euro-MPs to form political groupings.
Richard Corbett, a British Labour MEP, is leading the charge to cut the number of party political tendencies in the Parliament next year, a move that would dissolve UKIP’s pan-European Eurosceptic “Independence and Democracy” grouping.
Under the rule change, the largest and msot pro-EU groups would tighten their grip on the Parliament’s political agenda and keep control of lavish funding.
”It would prevent single issue politicians from being given undue support from the public purse,” said Mr Corbett.
”We want to avoid the formation of a fragmented Parliament, deeply divided into many small groups and unable to work effectively.”
Mr Corbett’s proposals will also give the President of the Parliament sweeping powers to approve or reject parliamentary questions.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, claimed that the move goes hand in hand with the denial of popular votes on the new EU Treaty.
”Welcome to your future. This shows an EU mindset that is arrogant, anti-democratic and frankly scary,” he said.
”These people are so scared of public opinion they are willing to set in stone the right to ignore it. Freedom requires the governing elite to be held to account. They must be getting very worried if they are enacting such dictatorial powers for themselves.”
Current rules allow 20 MEPs from a fifth of the EU’s member states to form groupings, giving them a say in the Parliament’s administration and power structure.
Under the changes, the threshold would become 30 MEPs from one quarter of the EU’s member states.
The Liberal Democrats, Greens, the far Left, Eurosceptics and other groupings have vowed to oppose the plans during a vote scheduled for July 9. Andrew Duff, leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat Euro-MPs and a committed EU Federalist, has opposed the silencing of UKIP on the basis of democratic principle.
”Whatever one’s views about their politics it cannot be argued that these small groups do not represent a strand of European public opinion,” he said.
”If the European Parliament is to be the legitimate forum for post-national democracy, all sorts of minority opinions have to be given effective, if proportionate representation.”
But the proposals are expected to be passed with the backing of the Parliament’s centre-Left and Right groupings, which account for 64 per cent of MEPs, including British Conservative and Labour deputies.
The row over the new EU Treaty meanwhile took a new turn yesterday after José Manuel Barroso, the Commission President, warned Irish voters that they will “pay” if they reject the document in a referendum next month.
Speaking in Brussels on Monday night, Mr Barroso attempted to head off growing opposition to the Treaty by threatening outcast status for Ireland.
”If there was a ‘No’ in Ireland or in another country, it would have a very negative effect for the EU. We will all pay a price for it, Ireland included, if this is not done in a proper way,” he said.
Officials fear that advanced plans to create a new EU President, Foreign Minister and European diplomatic service will be sunk by an Irish referendum rejection on June 12.
The new Lisbon Treaty replaces the old EU Constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters three years ago. While the other EU member states, such as Britain, have successfully evaded popular votes, Ireland is constitutionally required to hold a referendum and Brussels dreads a repeat of the 2001 Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty.
Yesterday, Paddy Power Plc, Ireland’s biggest bookmaker, rung alarm bells by following the opinion polls to cut the odds of a referendum rejection by half – from 4-1 to 2-1.
Superstitious EU officials are also keenly aware that the referendum result will be announced on an inauspicious date, Friday the 13th of June.