Today the UKIP-dominated Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament collapsed – but don’t celebrate too soon. Along with the obvious good news of loss of finance and status for UKIP and its allies, there may be bad news in store too as Europe’s unstable far right goes through another shake-up.
[UPDATE 20 October: UKIP says it has re-formed its European group – with the help of a far right party from Poland. Read full story]
The demise of the EFDD means there are now a number of far right MEPs knocking around without a home. This might provide a second opportunity for the alliance of racist populist and fascist parties gathered around the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV to form an official group of their own.
Another possible destination for some members of the now disbanded EFDD is the European Conservatives and Reformists group, the home of Britain’s Conservative Party MEPs. The ECR is not choosy – it already includes members of some very unsavoury parties.
The EFDD collapsed today when Iveta Grigule, a Latvian member of the group, resigned from it. This left the EFDD with members from just six EU countries – one short of the seven needed to form an official group and lap up the cash and perks that come with.
There has been speculation that Grigule, the only MEP for the Latvian Farmers’ Union party, was put under pressure to quit the Eurosceptic EFDD by mainstream pro-EU figures in the European Parliament. Farage’s group was known to be vulnerable to the potential impact of this single resignation.
Farage’s UKIP, which made up more than half of the EFDD’s MEPs is set to lose about £1m a year in funding. The group was set to scoop upwards of £2m from the EU this year in total – not bad for a bunch of avowedly anti-EU MEPs.
There is suddenly a bit less gravy sloshing around in UKIP’s carriage on the gravy train.
Official party groups are usually assured of key positions chairing EP committees and delegations – although other political groups had combined to keep Farage away from key posts this time.
The Le Pen-Wilders axis
It is these benefits in finance and position that Le Pen and Wilders were after when they sought to put together their own group – a long-term project by the pair. Such a grouping would also give the fascist Front National more cover as it seeks to hide its true politics, through association with parties such as Wilders’ PVV that have roots in the conservative mainstream. Both the FN and the PVV share a common platform of racism, aimed especially at Muslims and immigrants.
Fascist Le Pen came first in France at the European elections in May, with enough MEPs on her own to top the threshold of 23 members needed to form an official group. But the Le Pen-Wilders axis did not succeed in pulling together MEPs from seven separate EU states.
They had Belgium’s fascist Vlaams Belang in tow, along with Austria’s far right FPÖ and Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern League). But the Sweden Democrats – despite their fascist roots – were admitted to Farage’s EFDD instead, much to their delight. Lithuania’s Order and Justice Party opted for the EFDD too.
Le Pen does not want to join up with the hardcore nazis from Jobbik (Hungary) or Golden Dawn (Greece) as this would damage the FN’s carefully cultivated “respectable” electoral image. But she and Wilders had hoped to pick up the Sweden Democrats and had also courted smaller parties from Eastern Europe.
Now, they may try again to attract orphan members of the disbanded EFDD, even if they have to wait a few months to comply with EP rules.
Farage himself is not likely to commit UKIP to any group including Le Pen – antifascists’ long and successful campaign to expose the fascist British National Party means that it would be political suicide to ally UKIP with a very well known fascist organisation.
But it is possible that Le Pen and Wilders could now make a fresh bid to woo the Sweden Democrats, and Lithuania’s Order and Justice party – both now without the benefits of official group membership. If these two parties were pulled in, the Le Pen-Wilders alliance would hit the seven states target for establishing a formal European parliamentary group – and secure the funding that this would bring.
The Tories’ friends
It is worth noting that this still leaves some deeply unpleasant far right and fascist parties lurking in other corners of the European parliament, not least in the ECR group of Britain’s Tories.
This is the other main potential destination for some of the former EFDD MEPs, although it is understood that some elements of the populist Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement from Italy might seek to join the Greens’ Euro-group.
The ECR already includes Angel Dzhambazki, deputy leader of Bulgaria’s VMRO party, who openly works in close cooperation with Hungary’s nazi Jobbik party. The VMRO is one of the main constituents of Bulgaria’s fascist Patriotic Front.
And the ECR also includes the virulently racist populist Danish People’s Party (DKK) and the Finns Party (AKA the True Finns) whose platform is based on ethnic nationalism.
Other reactionary parties currently outside the formal EP groups include Poland’s Congress of the New Right, whose leader thinks women should not have the vote. As the far right realigns, all its vile offshoots are potentially in the mix.
We don’t know where the homeless MEPs from Farage’s defunct Euro-group will end up. But it is important to keep an eye on them.