Politics: In London clubland, `reformed' fascists and Tories come to a cosy arrangement

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The Independent Online
FOR GIANFRANCO Fini, it was proof that he had finally arrived. As he was ushered through the portals of the anti-federalist European Foundation headquarters in London's Pall Mall, the leader of Europe's most prominent "post fascist" party smiled a contented smile.

Here, amid the discreet gentlemen's clubs of St James, Signore Fini knew that he and his colleagues were being feted in the heart of the English establishment.

Given the furore caused by his previous visits to London, discretion was vital for this private meeting, his first in person with British Conservative MPs.

The president of Alleanza Nazionale (AN) shook hands with the Tory MPs and party activists and, through his interpreter, began to outline how the two parties should form a new centre-right alliance.

A smooth-talking and polished media performer, Mr Fini impressed his hosts with his grasp of the issues and his determination to construct a new pan-European coalition.

The MPs, who included Bill Cash, MP for Stone and a leading Euro-sceptic, agreed that the Conservatives and the AN had much more in common than the "federalist" European People's Party (EPP).

For the Tories, many of whom are appalled by their party's affiliation with the EPP, Mr Fini spoke a language they wanted to hear and they agreed to keep in regular contact.

It was the perfect deal for both sides. The Tories would have another "non-federal" ally for a new coalition in Strasbourg, while the Italian party would get some much-needed credibility.

AN can also now loosen ties with their former allies, the French National Front. With Alessandra Mussolini, the dictator's granddaughter, as one of AN's representatives, links to Il Duce are never far away.

The fruits of spring's meeting may become clear when the European Parliament election results are announced on Sunday and the state of the parties is known.

Under one option, the Tories would link up with the late Sir James Goldsmith's French party, the Alleanza Nazionale, and rebel French Gaullists to build a new "single house" of the centre-right in Strasbourg.

Both AN and the Gaullists are predicted to gain seats in Thursday's elections and with the Tories expected to increase their own total, the new group could be the third largest in the Parliament.

The Euro-sceptics point out that even though they would no longer be allied to the EPP, Tory MEPs in a new grouping could still vote with Christian Democrats on an ad hoc basis to oppose the Socialists. "Whatever happens in the elections, we will not have the same relationship with them," a Tory insider said.

An Alleanza Nazionale source revealed that several meetings have taken place with their Tory counterparts, but details cannot be released until after the election results are known.

"It was a private meeting and until after the elections, they will not say the names," he said. "Some of them were not happy with the association with the EPP so they say that they're looking ... to a centre-right alliance with the Gaullists in France and others."

He said the Tories and AN were working to build a mature European right which would be "socially conservative, classical liberal and democratic".

Mr Cash, a founder of the European Foundation, confirmed that the meeting with Mr Fini took place.

"We're not in a formal relationship with Alleanza Nazionale, but we are certainly having some discussions, just as we do with other European parties," Mr Cash said. "We are looking for a degree of common ground with other anti-federalists.

"The objectives of the EPP are alien to the objectives of the Conservative party and we have to address that."

Christiana Muscardini, leader of Alleanza Nazionale's 10-strong MEP group, confirmed that discussions are "continuing" with British Tories.

Evidence of the private talks emerged after a magazine interview with Ms Muscardini appeared on the Internet. In the interview she states that the negotiations began as long ago as early 1998.

"The relations with the British Conservatives have just begun. As for today, they are part of the European People's Party, a group towards which they show great signs of dissatisfaction," she said.

"Inside the EPP they are in a condition of submission that favours the Germans.... Thus we now find ourselves in a rather important stage of dialogue."

The AN are at pains to stress that the contacts have been with senior members of the Tory party, not just a small group of backbenchers. "We want to say who they are, but they don't want us to," a source said.

It has also emerged that Tory links with AN were first established in a little-known pan-European youth group called the European Young Conservatives (EYC).

The EYC is dominated by Euro-sceptic Tories and its official Conservative Party representative is Russell Walters, the campaigns chief for Paul Sykes' Democracy Movement. Its former chairman was Andrew Rosindell, another Thatcherite young Tory who helps to run Mr Cash's European Foundation.