United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage’s group in the European Parliament seems less a genuine Euroskeptic alliance than a convenient political vehicle for its members.
Politico reports that the two biggest parties in the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy bloc — Farage’s and Italy’s Five Star Movement — only vote the same way about 25 percent of the time.
The latest split was on display last Wednesday during plenary in Strasbourg when the EFDD fractured once again along national delegation lines over a proposal to limit the use of plastic bags. UKIP voted against and the Italians in favor.
What really unites the two parties — which have 39 out of the bloc’s 46 seats — is “a struggle to maintain enough nationalities and numbers to preserve group status and ensure continued funding from the EU,” the political news website argues.
A group must have members from at least seven European Union member states to qualify for committee assignments, speaking time and subsidies.
Open Europe, a British think tank, estimated last year that Farage’s alliance could collect up to €3.8 million in annual subsidies. His party alone got €1.2 million this year.
UKIP and the Five Star Movement disagree about how to use the money. Whereas the Italians return what is left over after paying expenses and staff, “UKIP’s approach is to take all the EU money it can get and focus on local politics.”
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy is also tenuous as it has just one member each from the Czech Republic, France and Poland.
The group collapsed last year when Iveta Grigule from the Latvian Farmers’ Union resigned. Farage was able to revive the bloc a week later by enlisting Robert Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, formerly of the Polish Congress of the New Right.
Other Euroskeptics are even worse off. Despite posting gains in the 2014 European Parliament elections, France’s Marine Le Pen, who leads the Front national, and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, who leads the country’s Freedom Party, failed to find enough supporters to form a group. They currently sit as independents which gives them almost no power to influence the legislative process.
Farage ruled out a pact with both, saying Le Pen’s party was still antisemitic and Wilders’ Islamophobic. Yet he had qualms about admitting Iwaszkiewicz who said in an interview before joining Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy that it was acceptable for husbands to beat their wives.