Declan Ganley, the Irish thorn in the EU's side
The man who spearheaded the 'no' campaign for the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty last year is hoping his political party will fare just as well in the upcoming European Parliament elections.Dublin -- Declan Ganley helped throw the EU into chaos with his opposition to the Lisbon treaty, and now the Irish millionaire hopes his Libertas party can strike at the heart of the 27-nation bloc in next week's European Parliament elections.
Libertas intends to field more than 600 candidates in the June 4-7 elections after reaching agreement with a range of parties across Europe -- although its partners have been dismissed as "pond life" by one Irish minister.
Ganley believes his new party is on the verge of a major breakthrough in the polls, where an estimated 375 million voters across the European Union will elect 736 parliamentary deputies for a five-year term.
"Something is happening, all across Europe. An old force is pulling us together once more. Democracy. People are coming together to take Europe back for themselves," he said in a speech in Rome on May 1.
The word "democracy" is never far from the lips of the 40-year-old who has become a real thorn in the side of the European Union.
Ganley says he was shocked into action after reading the Lisbon Treaty several years ago.
The treaty was supposed to give an expanded EU a new decision-making structure -- but it only gave him headaches. "I was horrified," he said.
In his eyes, "the bureaucrats" of Brussels were trying to impose "a Europe where the president would not be elected and where the people in charge would not be accountable".
Ganley put his money where his mouth is, forming Libertas. In speech after speech across Europe, he has argued that the party is neither anti-European nor eurosceptic.
What it wants, according to its manifesto, is a "democratic, accountable and transparent European Union".
Ganley, a true 'Irish success story' despite the lack of an Irish accent, launched his three-piece suits and his Montecristo cigars into the 'no' campaign for the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty last year.
He made his voice heard in among the anti-globalisation activists and the left-wing nationalists, and helped the 'No' camp win the day with 53 percent of the vote.
It was a huge embarrassment for the Irish government and a huge headache for Brussels as every member state has to approve the treaty for it to be passed.
His next move was to undertake a sweep of Europe, looking for partners to help field Libertas candidates in the European elections.
And he found them: in Spain he has formed an alliance with the centre-left businessman Miguel Duran, and in Italy with the L'Autonomia, which contains members of the extreme-right in its ranks.
Poland's Solidarity icon and ex-president Lech Walesa has also attended two Libertas conventions, wishing the party luck for the elections at a meeting in Rome. However, Walesa, a member of an EU committee of 'wise men', later told AFP he did not agree with Libertas.
Libertas is promising to field 613 candidates across Europe, although only 488 of them are directly fielded by the party -- the others are from its 'partner' parties.
Yet Ganley has quietly dropped his promise to have candidates in all 27 EU states. There will be Libertas candidates in just 14 countries, with no one in Austria and Belgium for example.
Undeterred, Ganley is still predicting he will get 100 candidates elected to the European Parliament, which as the only directly-elected EU institution has an important role passing legislation drafted by the EU Commission.
Michael Marsh, from the European pollster site predict09.eu, told AFP that goal "seems highly unlikely. A dozen would be a good performance".
Ganley looks set to find that turning a 'No' at the Irish referendum into a 'Yes' for the European Parliament, which also passes the EU Commission's annual budget, is harder than it might seem.
Opinion polls show he is heading for defeat in his own seat in northwest Ireland.
And having promised to resign Libertas' leadership if he fails to win election, the party faces the prospect of being rudderless ahead of a fresh referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland due to take place in October.
The European parliament, which has struggled to reinforce its standing in the continent, is expected to remain under centre-right control.