Farage Saves Euroskeptic Group with Front National Defector

The United Kingdom Independence Party leader cobbles together just enough allies to maintain his bloc in the European Parliament.

Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, participates in a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, December 13, 2011
Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, participates in a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, December 13, 2011 (EP/Pietro Naj-Oleari)

Britain’s Euroskeptic leader Nigel Farage was able to save his group in the European Parliament on Thursday thanks to the defection of a lawmaker from France’s Front national.

The survival of Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy, which is dominated by his own United Kingdom Independence Party, looked in doubt after last month’s election when the Danish People’s Party, the Fins Party and Italy’s Lega Nord left the bloc while other Euroskeptic members failed to win reelection.

UKIP, which advocates a British withdrawal from the European Union, almost doubled its seats in the Strasbourg assembly in May, winning 24. But without belonging to a bloc, a party doesn’t qualify for significant subsidies or committee assignments.

On Monday, one Dutch orthodox Protestant member also left Farage’s group to join the rival European Conservatives and Reformists, the mildly Euroskeptic bloc that led by Britain’s ruling Conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice party.

The Danish People’s Party and the Fins Party also joined the reformists, as did Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland last week. Thanks to its seven seats, the reformists — who want to scrap the commitment to “ever-closer union” from the European treaties — were able to overtake the liberals as the third largest party in the parliament.

That left Farage short of allies. In order to be recognized as a bloc, parties must have at least 25 members from seven European member states.

Farage lured Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement into an alliance, giving him almost double the required number of lawmakers. On Thursday, his party said the Latvian Farmers’ Union and the Sweden Democrats would join as well.

The Danish People’s Party had ruled out grouping with the more radical Sweden Democrats, blocking their entry to the reformist bloc.

To reach the required seven nationalities, Farage admitted Joëlle Bergeron, a defector from Marine Le Pen’s Front national, who is trying to form her own Euroskeptic bloc.

Winning 24 seats in the European Parliament last month, the French nationalists beat the country’s mainstream conservatives and Socialist Party into second and third place. The Austrian and Dutch Freedom Parties declared their allegiance to the Front before the elections, as did Belgium’s separatist Vlaams Belang and Lega Nord, meaning they had to find allies in two more member states.

Poland’s Janusz Korwin-Mikke was seen meeting with Le Pen and other party leaders in Brussels on Wednesday, suggesting that his conservative Congress of the New Right will join their bloc.

The Bulgarian National Movement, which was one seat, has yet to join a European party and could put Le Pen over the top.

Late on Wednesday, Belgium’s New Flemish Alliance, which won a plurality of the seats in Flanders’ regional legislature last month, announced it would join the European Conservatives and Reformists.

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