One of Jim Nicholson's boasts was that he, though his alliance with the English Conservative Party, was "part of the largest political group" in the European Parliament, thus giving him access to power and position.
As Nicholson's own web site (clearly not updated for a long time) puts it:
"In the European Parliament the Ulster Unionists are allied to the EPP-ED GROUP, the largest parliamentary group in Brussels and Strasbourg. The Group unites Christian Democrat, Conservative and other mainstream centre and centre-right political forces from across the now 25 member European Union, and currently includes MEPs from over 30 national political parties. With enlargement of the EU to ten new Member States in May 2004, the position of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament will be further strengthened.
Jim Nicholson is keen to maximise Ulster Unionism's influence in Europe. Being part of the largest political group allows him to do just that."
The EPP currently have 287 MEPS, around 37% of the total, and include the parties of Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and Silvio Berlusconi, and are thus a significant force in the European Parliament.
But poor Nicholson has just had his position destroyed by his friends in the Conservative Party – they decided yesterday to carry out their threat to quit the EPP.
William Hague and the Conservative's Europe spokesman, Mark Francois, met Joseph Daul, the head of the EPP's caucus, and later confirmed to the press that "the meeting was amicable and during the course of it, we confirmed to Daul our longstanding intention to leave the EPP and establish a new grouping in the European parliament after the elections."
So, if the current strengths of the parties are repeated after the June 4 election, Nicholson will find himself a member of a little rump party representing around 3.5% of the total MEPs in the European Parliament. Well done, Jim, that will certainly "maximise Ulster Unionism's influence in Europe"!
Nicholson's new mini-party would be the second smallest in the European Parliament, beating only the ID (Independence/Democracy group – including the UK Independence Party and Kathy Sinnott).
Apparently the Conservatives would like to set up a new 'Euro-sceptic' group in the European Parliament after the elections, so perhaps Jim's new friends will include Declan Ganley's Libertas and the UK Independence Party, if any of them get elected. But even if the Tories (and UCUNF) joined the IP group, they would have a total current strength of 49 MEP's (27 Tories plus Nicholson, 22 IP group), around 6% of the Parliament.
So the moral of the story appears to be; vote UCUNF to get an isolated powerless MEP who will be obliged through his party and group whips to oppose pretty much everything that the EU could do for Northern Ireland.
But, of course, like the proverbial donkey wrapped in a union jack, Nicholson will get the votes of his part of his tribe. But he'll have trouble attracting any transfers from the Euro-friendly SDLP or Alliance candidates. Hopefully this will be enough to consign him, at last, to history's political dustbin.