Once upon a time, the Tories used to sit in the European Parliament with the mainstream centre-Right European People’s Party group. David Cameron’s big idea was to form and join a new “centre-Right” group, along with a set of somewhat more eurosceptic European parties.
When the European Conservatives and Reformists (“ECR”) group was launched in 2009, efforts were made by the Tories to keep some of the zanier potential members of the group out. However, the ECR soon hit controversy, when it turned out that the chair of the group, Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, had a history of saying dodgy things about gays and Jews. The episode is nicely summarised here.
Then – a remarkable twist. Michal Kaminski was an MEP for the Polish Law and Justice Party. However, in 2010, he dramatically left that party, telling the Sunday Telegraph:
“I cannot accept that my party is being taken over by the far-Right, and being dominated by the far-Right. I don’t like the direction Law and Justice is going so I’m going my own way now.”
Well, now for a third instalment of the Tory – ECR saga, involving one of the most notorious antisemites in Poland – a Catholic priest who has been criticised by senior Church figures:
The Tories’ grouping in Europe is facing an embarrassing split after a controversial Polish priest who runs a radio station that broadcasts antisemitic views was invited to the European parliament by one of its MEPs.
Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, whose Radio Maryja station has been condemned by Jewish organisations and the Vatican for its extreme views, was invited last week to Brussels by a Polish MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the anti-federalist group.
The invitation has angered some Tory MEPs, including one who has written to Polish colleagues demanding that members of the group never again invite someone with antisemitic views to Brussels.
The split is an embarrassment for the Tories because the ECR, which was formed two years ago, is closely associated with David Cameron. It comes as Poland’s attitude towards racism is being scrutinised during the Euro 2012 football championship, which the country is co-hosting with Ukraine.
Marina Yannakoudakis, the Tory MEP for London, has written to Piotrowski saying Rydzyk should not be allowed to attend meetings within the parliament. She wrote: “I am personally offended by his comments about Jews and I feel let down that a member of the ECR group allowed Father Rydzyk to express his views in the European parliament.
“It is deeply troubling that a man accused of anti-Semitism by human rights groups and the Catholic Church in Poland has been invited to the European Parliament by a member of the fringe group of which the Conservative party has chosen to be a part.
“The Conservatives have serious questions to answer about why they allowed the group they created in the European Parliament to be associated with an event like this.”
There’s a lesson to be learnt here.
Chumming around with fringe political parties with homophobic and antisemitic politics is never a good idea. Not if you hope to be regarded as liberal, tolerant and anti-racist yourself.