Parties that are members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament may end up defecting to the European People's Party, European Commission President and senior EPP politician Ursula von der Leyen has hinted. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)


Von der Leyen: ECR members could defect to the European People’s Party

At a carefully curated press conference formally kicking off her reappointment campaign for President of the European Commission, von der Leyen said her EPP may be willing to deal with parts of the ECR under certain conditions


Parties belonging to the European Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group could end up defecting to the European People’s Party (EPP), European Commission president and senior EPP politician Ursula von der Leyen has hinted.

At a carefully curated press conference formally kicking off her reappointment campaign, von der Leyen said her EPP may be willing to deal with parts of the ECR under certain conditions.

Instead of trying to work with the EPP from inside the ECR, some parties may instead opt to defect from the group entirely, said von der Leyen, who was responding to questions put by what appeared to be a pre-selected group of journalists.

The EC President said she would have to wait and see which “groups will leave the ECR after the elections”. She added it may be “possible” for such defectors to join the EPP, so long as they agree to strict conditions.

These would include supporting her party’s views on various issues, ranging from the rule of law to backing Ukraine’s struggle against Russia.

“The cutoff line is: do you stand for democracy? Do you defend our values? Are you very firm in the rule of law? Are you supporting Ukraine? And are you fighting against Putin’s attempt to weaken and divide Europe?” she said, explaining some of the conditions would-be defectors would need to meet.

The answer to these questions would have to be “very clear” for the EPP to consider adding a party that was formerly in the ECR to their ranks, she added.

Von der Leyen’s comments come amid continued speculation about the future of the ECR group.

Much of this has centred on two parties, the Italian populist party Fratelli d’Italia, and the nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).

The EPP is rumoured to have been trying to formulate an alliance with Fratelli d’Italia for some time.

The group’s head, Manfred Weber, has met with Fratelli leader and Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni on various occasions since she took power in 2022.

Others played down the possibility, saying the German Christian Democrats could never ally with the Italian party due to its perceived links with hard-right and post-fascist politics.

Speculation also surrounds the Flemish N-VA party.

The N-VA, which seeks to see the Dutch-speaking Flanders region gradually become independent from Belgium, is perceived as being more centrist than its fellow ECR members.

As a result, some feel it is only a matter of time before the party withdraws from the ECR and attempts to join the EPP.

Speculation surrounding such a possible defection was enflamed last month by the N-VA prime minister of Flanders, Jan Jambon. On the issue, he told reporters that his party “no longer feels completely at home” within the ECR since Brexit.

“The British Conservatives were the reason we joined at the time, but they are no longer there,” he said.

While the N-VA has since tried to publicly play down any rumours that it wishes to leave the ECR, some inside the party still seem to believe an exit is possible.

“Everything is on the table,” one party official told Brussels Signal, before adding they were ultimately unsure whether or not the party leadership would opt to abandon the group.

Not everyone is trying to leave the ECR, however.

With the group expected to grow stronger after European Parliament elections in June, other parties from across Europe appear to be trying to join the conservative alliance.

Eric Zemmour’s Reconquete party became the latest addition to ECR earlier this month, with Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz also rumoured to be trying to join.

This latter has proven conceptually controversial for those already inside ECR, with Hungary’s stance on Ukraine having disconcerted some who want it to maintain a united front against Russian aggression in Europe.

Speaking to Brussels Signal, Czech MEP Alexandr Vondra insisted Orbán needs to change his tune on the Ukraine conflict if he wants to find a home in the party.

“He has to change this,” the MEP told head of news Justin Stares in a studio interview. Otherwise there would be “no way” Fidesz could join the ECR.