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20th Jan 2017

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Grillo MEPs to join Farage group after referendum

  • Beppe Grillo (l) and Nigel Farage - allies in the EP (Photo: Nigel Farage)

Members of Italy’s main opposition party, the Five Star Movement (M5S) of comedian Beppe Grillo, voted by an overwhelming majority on Thursday to join forces in the European Parliament with British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage, in a controversial referendum in which the M5S members were offered limited choices.

The poll, hosted by Grillo’s blog, had only three voting options: joining the Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, led by Farage’s UK Independence Party; entering the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, dominated by Britain’s Conservative Party; or staying as “non-inscrits” in the EP, eschewing all pan-European alliances.

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Just under 30,000 people – against 5.8 million who supported the M5S in last month’s European elections – took part in the online poll, which was open from 10.45am to 7pm.

About 78 percent picked the EFD as a coalition partner, against 12 percent who backed the non-inscrits option and 10 percent who sided with the ECR.

In a video illustrating referendum options, M5S supporters were told that by joining an EP group the movement would gain influence, staffing and funding, while retaining its “identity and political autonomy”.

They were also warned that staying as “non-inscrits” would amount to “political suicide” as it would exclude the M5S from key decisions.

Internal M5S rules mean that if the EFD fails to mobilise sufficient partners to form a group – 25 MEPs from at least seven countries are needed – M5S deputies will enter the “non-inscrits” faction, as the second-best option voted by party members.

Farage was confident that the EFD would make the grade.

In a statement, the Ukip leader said he was “extremely pleased” with the outcome of the M5S referendum.

“This gives a great confidence boost to those other delegation members who are coming to sign up to our common group next week. This feeds into a process of solidifying what should be a big group,” he added.

Ukip, which emerged as the biggest party in Britain’s EU elections, wants to limit immigration and lead the country out of the bloc. The M5S, which refuses left/right pigeonholing, campaigned for a referendum on Italy’s euro membership and for the abolition of budget discipline treaties such as the Fiscal Compact.

Controversially, Grillo and his right-hand man Gianroberto Casaleggio excluded the Greens from the list of potential allies, despite the M5S’ support of some of their key positions, on trade, energy and GM foods. The decision attracted a flurry of negative comments from Grillo blog readers.

“We are ready to open negotiations, we have several battles in common,” French Green MEP Jose Bove had told Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Ignazio Corrao, M5S delegation leader in the EU assembly, admitted to online news agency Eunews that the decision to rule out the alliance with the Greens was “taken in Rome” over the heads of elected MEPs.

“We weren’t consulted,” he said. “From the start, it was decided that Beppe [Grillo] and Casaleggio would have led the negotiations, and that is how it was.”

With 17 MEPs, the M5S is poised to become the second-largest delegation in the EFD, behind Ukip’s 24-strong ensemble, while it would have been the dominant force among the Greens/European Free Alliance, where 11 MEPs from Germany currently outnumber all other national delegations.

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