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EU socialist chief: Cooperation with the EPP no longer possible

Socialists and Democrats have always been able to cooperate with all pro-European forces in the European Parliament, but the centre-right European People’s Party’s movements towards collaboration with the far right oversteps our “pro-EU red line”

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, May 8, 2023

While the “traditional” collaboration between Christian Democrats, Socialists and Democrats and Liberals has been going well in recent years, this is unlikely to continue after the elections in spring 2024, said Garcia, blaming the EPP.
While the “traditional” collaboration between Christian Democrats, Socialists and Democrats and Liberals has been going well in recent years, this is unlikely to continue after the elections in spring 2024, said Garcia, blaming the EPP.

by Aleksandra Krzysztoszek, Sarantis Michalopoulos and Sonia Otfinowska

Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have always been able to cooperate with all pro-European forces in the European Parliament, but the centre-right European People’s Party’s movements towards collaboration with the far right oversteps our “pro-EU red line” and risks upsetting this delicate balance, Iratxe Garcia Perez, leader of the S&D group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV Poland in an interview.

While the “traditional” collaboration between Christian Democrats, Socialists and Democrats and Liberals has been going well in recent years, this is unlikely to continue after the elections in spring 2024, said Garcia, blaming the EPP.

Asked about her recent criticism of current EPP chief Manfred Weber for seeking partnerships on the right side of the political spectrum, she replied:

“If this alliance is in danger, it is because some people are moving in a very dangerous direction: towards the extreme right and political forces who are not in favour of European integration,” Garcia told EURACTIV.

The socialist leader noted the ability of the EPP and S&D to always cooperate despite the political differences.

However, the EU lawmaker added that S&D’s only red line is cooperating with the extreme right, a red line the EPP “sadly overstepped”.

Weber has tried to build bridges with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, which belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

The conservative ECR group, currently the sixth force in the European Parliament, is edging closer to becoming the third-largest group with 85 seats, recent projections for the next European elections in 2024 show.

Speaking via video at Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia convention in Milan over the weekend, Weber reiterated his wish saying the Italian coalition consisting of Forza Italia (EPP), Brothers of Italy (ECR), and far-right Matteo Salvini’s Lega (ID) is an “interesting” model for the EPP.

“The Italian model is particularly interesting for the EPP […] I think we can learn a lot from your experience, given the upcoming European elections. Winning, for us, is a responsibility. Who else could lead Europe in these difficult times,” he added.

Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, an EU Parliament vice-president and a member of the Polish ruling Law and Justice (PiS, ECR) party, told EURACTIV Poland that members of Meloni’s party have not signalled to their ECR colleagues that they might be willing to change their European affiliation.

Instead, he said he heard from German EPP MEPs that Christian Democrats (CDU) are interested in deepening cooperation with the ECR as both groups have common positions on many issues and often vote the same way in the European Parliament.

However, officially both German conservatives in Berlin – Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) – have firmly rejected such a scenario.

Jurgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesperson of the CDU/CSU party group in the Bundestag, told EURACTIV.com in January 2023 that while the Italian coalition government also includes the EPP sister party Forza Italia, the positions of the other Italian coalition parties “are largely incompatible with those of the EPP”.

“There is no reason for further cooperation with the other parties of the Italian government in the European Parliament, as long as they cooperate with openly anti-European forces such as the German AfD,” Hardt said.

In early February, EURACTIV also reported that several EPP members reacted negatively to the Weber-Meloni “rapprochement”, particularly complaining about the lack of prior consultation.

The crucial elections

A key element regarding the future collaborations of the EPP is the upcoming Spanish and Greek elections. In both countries, the centre-right parties have adopted a similar communication line regarding partnerships with the far-right.

Greece is holding national elections on 21 May, and the current Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (New Democracy – EPP) is considered Weber’s closest ally in the EPP.

In order to form a government, a coalition will be needed, as a new electoral law will be applied for the first time.

The Greek socialists (Pasok) are expected to play the kingmaker’s role as they rank third in polls behind main opposition leftist Syriza party (EU Left) and New Democracy.

Syriza has said a progressive coalition with the socialists should be formed to oust conservatives from power. Pasok keeps its cards close to its chest until the elections, although its electoral program is much closer to Syriza’s.

A Pasok-New Democracy partnership is also difficult because the phone of current Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis was found to be bugged by the Greek secret services, which are under the personal control of Mitsotakis in the so-called “Greek Watergate” scandal.

Officially, New Democracy has said its aim is to lead a single-party government.

But several anti-government media reports over the weekend in Athens cited “conclusive evidence” suggesting that New Democracy high-ranking officials have been in contact with far-right politicians to create an “extreme right buffer” on the right side in case they need people to form a government.

“While Mr. Mitsotakis tries to appear as an alleged opponent of the far right […] his underground deals with it, which are being revealed daily, show his aim of forming a right- far-right government if he wins the elections”, Syriza said in a statement.

Another critical election is next December in Spain, where according to polls, Garcia’s PSOE party ranks second after Partido Popular (PP-EPP).

According to analysts, PP will need a partner to form a government and far-right Vox (ECR) could be an option as it ranks third in polls.

Publicly, the PP has said it would prefer to govern alone but has not firmly ruled out a partnership with Vox if needed. PP and Vox have already forged an alliance in Castile and Leon region.

For its part, PSOE is trying to forge alliances on the left, which is for now, fragmented.

Several EPP sources have told EURACTIV that both the Greek and Spanish elections will be determined about the personal political future of Weber and the EPP’s in general.

EURACTIV is informed that the traditional pro-EU centre-right parties do not see these partnerships in positive light and if this Italy-style “experiment” fails it will have a major effect.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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