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Europe

Ukip’s Farage, Front National’s Le Pen compete for Eurosceptic leadership … and EU cash

media Marine Le Pen with Matteo Salvini (Northern League, Italy), Harald Vilimsky (FPÖ, Austria), Geert Wilders (PVV, Netherlands) Gerolf Annemans (VB, Belgium) Reuters/Francois Lenoir

Despite big advances in this month’s European elections, right-wing Eurosceptics are having problems forming a group in the European parliament due to arguments over who should be leader and who’s a racist.

Buoyed up by disillusion with mainstream parties, opposition to Brussels rule and globalisation and a high abstention rate, eurosceptics garnered a record number of seats in the European parliament.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Britain’s Ukip, at 27 per cent, and France’s Front National (FN), at 25 per cent, were crowing over a victory that infuriated their opponents and FN leader Marine Le Pen declared her organisation was France’s leading party.

Its representation in the European parliament has leapt from three to 24, while the number of far-right and Eurosceptic MEPs has risen to well over 100.

But they have so far proved unable to form a single parliamentary group, a move that is vital if they wish to chair committees, have full speaking rights and access to generous allowances that would allow them to take on staff and run offices.

On Wednesday Le Pen held a press conference, flanked by Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders and other anti-immigrant nationalists from Austria, Italy and Belgium.

That alliance gives them 38 MEPs, well over the 25 minimum needed to form a group, but they only come from only five countries, while the rules say they must be from seven.

Le Pen has ruled out recruiting Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik or Germany’s National Democratic Party, judging their bootboy tendencies harmful to her attempts to clean up the FN’s image.

For his part Farage has made it clear that he intends to remain the leader of the Europe, Freedom and Democracy group and declaring the FN beyond the pale because it has “anti-Semitism in its DNA”, a principled stand that conveniently keeps his only serious rival for Eurosceptic-in-chief out of the running.

As Le Pen held her press conference, Farage was meeting Beppe Grillo of Italy’s Five Star movement with a view to joining Europarliamentary forces.

"If we can come to an agreement, we could have fun causing a lot of trouble for Brussels," Farage said.

Grillo’s 17 MEPs would be an important gain for Farage, whose group has lost Italy’s Northern League to Le Pen and the True Finns, who have gone over to the oximoronically named European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), led by the British Conservative Party.

The pan-European groups must be formed by 24 June, leaving both leaders pitching for the support of several small parties:

  • The Sweden Democrats (two MEPs);
  • The Danish People’s Party (four MEPs);
  • The Alternative for Germany (seven MEPs);
  • The Polish Congress of the New Right (four MEPs);
  • Lithuania’s Order and Justice (two MEPs);
  • And a lone Greek independent.

Euro-allergic they may be but the hard right are not averse to collecting European funds for their cause.

Ukip’s representatives in the previous parliament came under fire for allegedly claiming nearly 950,000 euros in hotel and meal allowances and office expenses.

Forming a parliamentary group can give parties access to between one and three billion euros to take on staff and run offices.

In previous parliaments neither Ukip nor the FN have been over-assiduous in attending sessions or participating in them, so, with 70 per cent of the parliament remaining pro-EU, there may be a limit to how much fun they have, even if they join the ECR in some votes.

And they may have trouble agreeing on a common policy on quite a few questions.

Not all nationalisms are compatible and Le Pen’s defence of Russian President Vladimir Putin has already queered her pitch with the anti-Russian Poles and Lithuanians.

The FN and Wilders’s Dutch Party for Freedom voted against each other 49 per cent of the time, according to the VoteWatch monitoring group.
 

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