Leading article: Misfits, bigots and malcontents

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The Independent Online

The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union will be recorded in history as a glad moment for the continent. But in the short term it has brought about one unfortunate consequence. The entrance of six reactionary Romanian and Bulgarian representatives to the European Parliament means that the far-right parties of the continent now control enough seats to form a recognised political group. This will go under the faintly sinister name of the Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty Group.

Thankfully, there is little sign that the ITS will be able to organise itself properly. Its leader, Bruno Gollnish, is awaiting trial on charges of Holocaust denial. And its members - ranging from Jean-Marie Le Pen and Alessandra Mussolini to Ashley Mote, formerly of the UK Independence Party - have little in common other than a generalised xenophobia. Most actually voted against the very Romanian and Bulgarian accession that has enabled them to form a recognised group.

But it would be foolish to ignore the symbolic importance of this development, nor its practical consequences. For one thing, the ITS now qualifies for EU funding. The motley group also has a right to parliamentary speaking time and at least one committee chairmanship. The ITS may be some way from being a serious force in the parliament, but it has the potential to be a considerable nuisance. And of course it has a new megaphone for its deeply unpleasant propaganda.

It is important, therefore, that the rest of the European Parliament unites in condemning the ITS and what it stands for. This is especially important for the mainstream centre-right forces in Europe, which need to stand firm in opposition to the racists and bigots. This underlines the mistake that the Conservative leader, David Cameron, is making with his attempt to break his party's connection with the largest grouping in the parliament, the European People's Party, to form a new grouping of Eurosceptics.

This will not only water down opposition to the ITS, but serves to marginalise the Conservatives - and Britain - in Europe. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is refusing to meet with Mr Cameron while he is committed to breaking off with the EPP. The centre-right candidate for the French presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy, is reported to have turned down an invitation to speak at the last Conservative conference on the same grounds.

It is not too late for Mr Cameron to rethink a foolish pledge made when running for his party leadership. It is a sad irony that just as the far right is on the ascent in European politics, a modernising, centre-right politician like Mr Cameron is losing his voice in Europe.