Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 15:39 UK

Libertas chief sets out Euro stall

By Ross Hawkins and Brian Wheeler
BBC News

Can a new political party get 100 of its candidates into the European Parliament at its first attempt?

Declan Ganley at the Libertas UK launch (10 March 2009)
Declan Ganley is not short of ambition for his new party

That is the question the founder of Libertas, Declan Ganley, will answer at the European elections next month.

The telecoms magnate is a household name in Ireland, where he was a leading voice in the successful campaign for a 'no' vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Outside his boyhood home in Watford the residents are excited to see him. He is an Irish citizen, but he lived in the Hertfordshire town until he was 12 years old.

But beyond Ireland and the British street on which he grew up, his profile is lower. His aides hand out copies of a book of interviews with Mr Ganley smiling from the cover.

He hopes the current campaign will help get his cause noticed. But there will be tough competition for attention - and votes - from both long established political forces and other smaller parties. Some of those are anti-European. Mr Ganley says Libertas is not.

Punching power

It does not call for Britain to withdraw from the EU, but for the EU to be changed. Elected EU commissioners, a rewritten 25-page European treaty on which the public would vote and a repeal of many laws are among its policies.

Libertas plans to field candidates in 24 of the EU's 27 member states, including England and Wales.

For some bloke to come along and pay for it all out of his own pocket would de-legitimise it from the very beginning
Declan Ganley

At the heart of the Libertas offering is a simple proposition: standing across Europe gives it the potential to create a single-party bloc in the European Parliament with a punching power others lack.

All that relies on Mr Ganley's party scoring an unprecedented electoral success. And even he knows that will be a challenge.

Speaking to BBC News earlier this month, he said that he specialised in "start-ups" in business and he was not daunted by the scale of the task or the obstacles in front of the new party as it battles to establish itself in so many different jurisdictions and electoral regimes.

He said his mission was to ensure the European Union was not "destroyed" by unaccountable bureaucrats, who he said were "out of control".

"Nobody else can win as many seats in the European Parliament as we can," he said.

"And if we have the seats in the European Parliament we can make it function as it's supposed to work, which is to act as a check on the decisions that are being made in Brussels and eventually, we would hope, as a legislator.

"We need to massively reduce the amount of law and red tape that is coming out of Brussels that's unnecessary and we have a way to do it."

'Clear message'

He attacked the "tyranny of mediocrity" in Brussels and Westminster who were "trying to blame everybody but themselves" for the "economic mess we are in".

He also attempted to dispel the notion - put about by his opponents - that Libertas is a vanity project funded out of his own pocket.

"I am not as wealthy as people say I am. The Swedish press were saying I am a billionaire. My wife was saying 'you know we must have a chat,'" he joked.

It was "tempting" to pump his own money into Libertas but he said it had to be a grassroots campaign funded by individual donations.

"For some bloke to come along and pay for it all out of his own pocket would de-legitimise it from the very beginning. We are better off struggling and having to go out there and knock on doors."

He also dismissed suggestions that Libertas's message was more subtle than Eurosceptic parties such as the UK Independence Party, which wants straightforward withdrawal from the EU, and could, therefore, be more difficult to sell to voters.

"By voting for Libertas they can send a very clear, surgical message to Brussels and Downing Street that says enough of unaccountable government and enough of the anti-democratic approach of Brussels."

And - in a sign of the boundless self-confidence or optimism, depending on your point of view - he invoked the "risk-taking" spirit of Christopher Columbus, which he said was needed to unlock the potential of Europe's citizens and create new jobs.

"We need across Europe a new renaissance. We haven't had done one of those for a few hundred of years."

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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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