An Apology of Populism (2): Lost in Formation

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My name is Sebastiano I’m a 24 years old student in Macroeconomics and co-founder of TRAM:E (Theory, Reflection, Action, Movement: Europe). Born Italian, raised Belgian, French, German. Migrant by nature. Boundaries, borders… not my thing. Polyglot.

By my count – a very subjective one, I reckon, following the categorisation in the previous post166 Eurosceptics will be sitting in the European Parliament out of 751 MEPs, shared among two established groups (ECR: 70 members/15 countries; EFDD: 48 members/7 countries), one French-led group which was much in the public eye (EAF: 41 members/6 countries, didn’t meet minimum criteria for formation), and three of the parties sitting in the non inscrits, NI: the National Democratic Party from Germany, Jobbik from Hungary and Golden Dawn from Greece. More details can be found here. In this counting, I am deliberately excluding parties such as Orban’s Fidesz and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia which, along with other non-elected national parties, may suffer from what is a more ‘opportunistic’ kind of Euroscepticism.

As of June 24th EAF did not achieve to sit as a group in the EP, mainly because it was awaiting confirmation of membership by Angel Dzhambazki from Bulgaria Without Censorship, which would have given it its seventh country and one more MEP. Instead, Mr Dzhambazki opted for ECR along with his other colleague from BWC, thus leaving no alternative to Marine Le Pen’s (far-)right-wing Eurosceptic group’s prospective members, but to sit in the non-inscrits. Following this failure (which most commentators ascribe to Ms Le Pen personally), Geert Wilder’s PVV from the Netherlands declared it would withdraw from any future possible formation of the group, as long as the KNP – an allegedly anti-Semitic and misogynist Polish party – was also a member of the alliance.

It should be noted that Nigel Farage’s UKIP refused any possible alliance with the FN on the same grounds. The two parties have long fought for hegemony over the Eurosceptic camp in the European Parliament, before and after the elections. This cockfight notwithstanding, it was a ‘dissident’ from Ms Le Pen’s party, Joëlle Bergeron, which effectively allowed the EFDD to fulfil the minimum criteria for formation (at least 25 members, coming from at least 7 countries).

Was there an agreement behind it all? Was allowing a dissident from the FN to depart towards the British-led group a far-sighted tactic to allow at least one Eurosceptic alliance to form, once it was clear that Ms Le Pen was struggling far more than expected to form her own? Nothing of the sort, no Council-style ‘back-door deals’! The dissident MEP left the FN two days after the elections. She had been asked to stand down and leave her post to another candidate, reportedly after she supported the right to vote for immigrants to France who work and pay taxes. In a press release, the EFDD said Ms Bergeron had “joined the [National Front] with great hopes, but realised that their philosophy was very different [from hers]”.

For a national political party to be effective in the European Parliament, alliances are of utmost importance. It is essential not just to meet the minimum requirements for establishing a group, but to co-opt a large number of MEPs in one’s ranks. By now, the only existent Eurosceptic group barely met those minimum criteria. A stronger, more numerous Eurosceptic group would have made its voice heard, and would probably have obtained some presidencies and/or vice-presidencies – if not of the hemicycle itself – of the most influential committees (i.e. economic ones). With the election of chairs and co-chairs due next week, it is doubtful that the EFDD will achieve much more than sending ‘prominent members’ to the Fisheries committee, as was the case with Mr Farage in the past legislature – no disrespect to fishes intended, of course. This will, in turn, render the high number of Eurosceptics in the EP meaningless, thus voiding of purpose the breakthrough in the elections. It will, moreover, confirm that the European elections were just a test case for upcoming national elections in the UK (2015) and presidential elections in France (2017).

If it weren’t for this fortunate defection, we would have had two relatively big parties – UKIP and the FN, both winners in their respective countries – sitting in the NI with around 90 Eurosceptic right-wing MEPs, their allies. As a result of their fight for supremacy, however, only one of the groups has been established. If they had put their differences aside and worked together – possibly forming a common ‘EFDD/EAF’ group, emphasising the technical nature of the alliance – they would have obtained the access to more funding, dossiers-drafting capacity and speaking time. Ironically, this might turn into a Waterloo defeat not only for the French, but for the Dutch and the British, too. (to be continued)

Sebastiano Putoto is a guest on this blog.

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