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Central Europe: Fertile Ground for Libertas?

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Libere Paroli

Written by Dániel Antal Declan Ganley, the founder and main financier of the eurosceptic Libertas party and the man behind the Irish No-Lisbon campaign, have been touring Central Europe for political allies and recruiting local politicians for the Libertas party lists with mixed results.

In Slovakia, Mr Ganley was hosted by the local Hayek Foundation, one of the many right-wing think thanks that the former Slovakian coalition has left behind after being removed from power by Robert Fico and his strange coalition. Jan Oravec, former Chief of Strategy of the Ministry of Economy and President of the Hayek Foundation who hosted Declan Ganley said “Slovakia is fertile ground for the Libertas message of democracy, accountability and transparency. We are great supporters of the European Union, but are disappointed in the anti-democratic way it’s being run. Slovakians, particularly in these difficult economic times, want a better deal from Europe”.

However, Mr Ganley has left Slovakia with mixed results. Vladimir Palko, the head of a small breakaway right-wing party of the formerly governing Christian Democrats, the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia, is approving of Mr Ganley’s criticism, but excludes running on a Libertas list. He wants to keep the anti-Lisbon Treaty message for his home-grown party.

In the Czech Republic, Mr Ganley was more successful, because he could recruit at least one MEP, Ms. Jana Bobošíková to launch a new anti-EU party under the name Suverenita. Ms Bobošíková is a real catch for Libertas, as she become an independent MEP with receiving the most preference votes in the Czech Republic in 2004. However, Suverenita-Libertas will have to fight for the anti-Lisbon vote with another brand new home-grown eurosceptic party, SSO. It is unclear if the better established SSO want to have Mr Ganley and his local ally on board.

Libertas set up an office in Warsaw, Poland, under its own name, and tries to build coalition with small far-right parties that have fallen out from the parliament in the last election. According to the Irish Times the Polish Libertas line-up has yet to be finalised but is expected to draw on figures from the populist Self Defence party and the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families (LPR), an anti-abortion, anti-Semitic, anti-gay grouping. Although I think that these groups have enough core voters and can attract so many protest votes that they can score Libertas a small victory, their messages are extreme even in the Polish context, which is probably the most-right wing country of the EU. That means that given Mr. Ganley’s English-speaking media savvy party Self Defence and LDR will provide the campaign with enough sound-bite gaffes that could lead to a prison sentence in some other EU jurisdiction and I think they will backfire in the Western European contexts. These parties would be branded as Nazis in most other European states.

In Austria it is possible that Libertas will co-operate with BZO, the party of the late Jörg Haider, according to Der Standard. I think that BZÖ has no other option than to run a highly anti-Lisbon campaign, which will be a successful one in the deeply eurosceptic and rich Austria. However, I do not see the reason why should they split the harvest with Mr. Ganley.

All in all, Mr Ganely is running into the same political problems that the French National Front or the UK Independence Party have seen before. It is easy to find a common enemy in the EU, but there is little room to build a coalition of competing nationalist ideas and voters who dislike foreigners and would like to close the doors of their country.

In Hungary, where all five parliamentary parties are pro-Lisbon and were quick to be the first to ratify the Treaty (leading to Libertas spreading rumor of a conspiracy theory that they have voted for it in the national assembly before it was translated to Hungarian…), the Libertas has set its expectations very low. It is recruiting ‘able candidates to run in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections’ through its webpage.

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