N-VA joins ECR group in European Parliament

Summary

Belgium’s largest party, the nationalist N-VA has chosen to join the famously Euro sceptic group over Guy Verhofstadt’s liberal ALDE

Blow to Verhofstadt’s European ambitions

After holding talks with ALDE, the liberal group led by former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, Flemish nationalist party N-VA has decided to join the European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament.

Both a wary attitude towards Verhofstadt (pictured) and N-VA president Bart De Wever’s admiration for David Cameron, the British prime minister who founded ECR, played a role in the surprise decision. In the previous term, N-VA was part of EVA, a mix of greens and regionalists.

With four extra N-VA MEPs, the right wing ECR now becomes the third largest group in the European Parliament, after Christian-democrats and socialists, but ahead of ALDE. This is a blow to Verhofstadt’s hopes of becoming president of the assembly. Flemish newspapers spoke of Verhofstadt being “humiliated”. In the past, the liberal has lamented N-VA’s nationalism, but recent weeks saw a rapprochement.

The ECR is by and large Eurosceptic, much more so than N-VA, which has always called itself “pro-European”. Besides the British Conservatives, it includes, among others, the German Alternative für Deutschland, the Polish Law and Justice and two parties deemed extreme-right – the True Fins and the Danish People’s Party.

N-VA’s decision provoked strong reactions in Flanders. “Honestly, there are some scum in that group. I have no idea what N-VA will do there,” said the usually soft-spoken Ivo Belet, MEP for CD&V. Open VLD’s Guy Vanhengel called N-VA a “motley crew”: “After a term with the greens and weeks of fooling the liberals, they now show their true face: ultra-conservative, Eurosceptic and by no means liberal. It has the advantage of clarity. Also for their position in this country.”

Vanhengel also referred to the on-going federal government talks, in which Open VLD might no longer be eager to help out N-VA. Open VLD president Gwendolyn Rutten, however, says that this will not influence her party’s willingness to enter government.