Monday, 30 May 2005

Tory suspended for lining up with UKIP over Barroso sleaze allegations

By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent

THE Conservative Party suspended an MEP yesterday after he supported the UK Independence Party in a censure motion against José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission.

The UKIP had succeeded in overcoming overwhelming opposition from the Brussels political establishment to make Senhor Barroso defend himself against sleaze allegations days before European referendums in France and the Netherlands.

In an extraordinary piece of political drama, Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader in the European Parliament, faced booing in the chamber and was denounced as a demagogue and accused of trying to undermine the Commission’s reputation before the referendums.

Roger Helmer, a Conservative Eurosceptic, came to his aid and denounced political leaders, including those of the European Conservative group, for strongarming MEPs into withdrawing their names from the UKIP motion.

Mr Helmer was one of five Conservatives who signed the motion but the only one to support it in the chamber.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, leader of the European People’s Party, to which the Conservatives are allied, said that he would expel Mr Helmer from the group, declaring: “No one, but no one, must be allowed to shake our resolve as we continue to build European integration.”

Phillip Bradbourn, the Tory chief whip, sent Mr Helmer a letter stating: “In consequence of your action today, including the deliberate attack on the leader of our delegation and the Conservative Party . . . I have no alternative but to suspend the Conservative whip from you forthwith pending further investigations.”Mr Helmer rejected the accusation that he attacked the party.

The Parliament summoned Senhor Barroso to explain a free holiday that he had on the luxury yacht of Spiros Latsis, the Greek shipping multibillionaire, after Mr Farage collected the 75 signatures necessary to table a motion of censure.

Senhor Barroso has personal responsibility for EU competition policy in shipping, and Mr Latsis’ companies have other links with the Commission.

Senhor Barroso failed to disclose the free holiday, reportedly worth ?20,000 (£13,700), saying that he did not consider it a conflict of interest. He took it before assuming the presidency but after his appointment.

Mr Farage told the Parliament: “What we are asking for is disclosure. It can and should be done. By insisting these free holidays maintain no conflict of interest, you put yourself in a difficult position. When you are in a hole, Mr Barroso, stop digging.”

Senhor Barroso said: “This motion is unfair, unjustified, illegitimate and absurd. This has gone across the border from democracy to demagoguery, and that is not something we can accept.”

The summons was an embarrassment for Senhor Barroso, but political leaders queued up to denounce Mr Farage. Herr Pöttering said: “This motion is humanly indecent because it is against the building of our continent. It is an attack on the European institutions and the credibility of the commission.”

Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal group, told the motion’s signatories: “You are ridiculous. It is just a ploy to discredit the Commission.”

This article first appeared in THE TIMES