Less than five months after the impressive Eurosceptic performance at the European Parliament elections, have the wheels rolled off their bandwagon in Brussels? Today, the political group which UKIP’s Nigel Farage co-chairs in the Parliament, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), fell apart after the defection of its single Latvian MEP, Iveta Grigule. While the EFDD still has 47 MEPs, it now falls below the threshold of seven nationalities required for official recognition within the Parliament. Concretely, this means the group is no longer entitled to funding and resources (beyond what its MEPs receive individually), nor to speaking slots in Plenary sessions. This last point is important for Farage, who has become a very effective performer in the Strasbourg debating chamber with his provocative Eurosceptic speeches: unlike the Parliament’s pro-European luminaries, his caustic criticism has succeeded in making him a YouTube sensation.
So are the anti-European MEPs about to be silenced?
Rebels without a pause
The Eurosceptic right has been written off before, but it will not stay down (or quiet) for long. Farage will undoubtedly look for other MEPs to make up the seventh EFDD nationality. After some of the group’s members from the previous legislature switched groups after the European elections, he successfully coaxed the 17 Italian MEPs from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement to join him. No matter that their environmentalist leanings clash with UKIP’s climate change scepticism: the EFDD is united by what it opposes (the EU, immigration, the political class) rather than any policy coherence. There are a number of unaligned MEPs who broadly fit the Eurosceptic profile: barring the anti-Semites, Farage is probably on the phone to many of them right now.
A new alignment?
Should Farage not succeed in making up the numbers, the Five Star Movement may drift away to the Green group, but this would present an opportunity for Marine Le Pen, who leads the French Front National. When she tried to form her own group over the summer, she found allies such as the Dutch PVV led by Geert Wilders, but not enough to reach the seven nationality threshold (Farage declined to cooperate). She could now sweep up some of the smaller EFDD delegations to make up the numbers and form a new Eurosceptic grouping with just as big an axe to grind.
So any relief on the part of the pro-Europeans at the implosion of their most troublesome critics in Brussels may prove short-lived. The Eurosceptics will not go quietly.
Johnny Pring is a Director at FTI Consulting Brussels