EUOBSERVER / STRASBOURG – The strategic positioning within the newly-formed European Conservatives and Reformists group continued late on Tuesday night (14 July) with the surprise election of Polish MEP Michal Tomasz Kaminski as its chairman.
UK MEP Timothy Kirkhope had initially been billed to stand unopposed for the post but stood aside at the last minute when Mr Kaminski failed to get elected as one of the parliament's 14 vice-presidents on Tuesday afternoon.
The sudden decision to allow Mr Kaminski to take the group chairmanship as a consolation prize is a clear indication of the desire of the UK conservatives' – the chief architects of the ECR group - to keep the Polish members from the Law and Justice party (PiS) on board.
Mr Kaminski had been the official ECR candidate for one of the parliamentary vice-presidents but lost out when renegade MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, also a British conservative and a member of the ECR group, decided to run as well.
"Because of Mr McMillan-Scott's actions, the prior agreement [whereby Mr Kirkhope would become chairman of the ECR group] fell through," ECR spokesman James Holtum told EUobserver.
The ECR group of 55 MEPs is dominated by three member states: the UK Conservatives contributing 26 MEPs, Poland's PiS contributing 15 MEPs, and the Czech Republic's Civic Democratic Party adding a further 9 MEPs.
The party is opposed to a further centralisation of power in Brussels.
"Purposes of unity"
Mr McMillan-Scott was quickly kicked out from the UK Conservative party delegation to the ECR on Tuesday night but remains within the group for the time being although insiders say he is likely to be expelled shortly.
His decision to stand for, and eventually win, a vice-presidential post without his group's backing was reportedly the result of his concerns over the presence of "extremist groups" within the new ECR bloc.
The PiS has a poor record on supporting gay rights, having banned a number of gay marches in the past.
Mr McMillan-Scott was also highly critical of the UK Conservatives' move to leave the larger European Peoples Party, and is thought to be keen to rejoin the group if expelled from the ECR.
But his move to stand for parliamentary vice-president proved highly unpopular within the ECR group, especially amongst the Polish delegation.
An ECR source, who wished to remain anonymous, told this website that last night's decision to allow Mr Kaminski to take the group's chairmanship was for the "purposes of unity" and was a clear move to appease the Polish delegation
Mr Kaminski's election as ECR chairman makes him the first deputy from a central or eastern European to head a political group within the parliament, and comes on the same day that Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek was elected as parliament president.
He has close links with current Polish president Lech Kaczynski, standing down from his post of MEP in 2007 to serve as the president's secretary of state for two years, before being re-elected as an MEP this June.
In 1999 Mr Kaminski caused a scandal in Poland by visiting the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London. He was member of the Polish parliament at the time.