Tuesday

23rd May 2017

Focus

British eurosceptic cobbles together EP group

British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage has managed to form a group in the EP, but his 48-strong team has a mixed bag of political beliefs.

Among the personalities is a 64-year old who defected from France's National Front, representatives from a Swedish party which has a fascist past, and a Latvian out to secure more aid for farmers.

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The new group is an important victory for Farage, who has been battling with the anti-federalist ECR group, led by Britain's Conservatives, for the allegiance of many of the same MEPs over the past few weeks.

His Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) is composed of 24 Ukip MEPs, 17 Italians from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, two Lithuanians, one Czech, one French, two Swedes, and one Latvian. It is currently the smallest group in the EP, with all groups to be finally formed by 24 June.

The French defector

Joelle Bergeron is a 64-year old widow and auctioneer from Brittany and a former French National Front MEP.

She left the party only two days after her election.

Before the vote, she had been severely criticised within the party for suggesting in an interview that foreigners who work and pay tax in France should have the right to vote.

But instead of quitting her seat, as demanded by leader Marine Le Pen, she decided to leave the National Front, and become an independent MEP.

In a press release published Wednesday, the EFD says Bergeron had “joined the [National Front] with great hopes but realised that their philosophy was very different”.

The Swedes

Kristina Winberg and Peter Lundgren represent the Sweden Democrats (SD) party in Farage’s group.

SD received almost 10 percent of the Swedish vote on a campaign platform that says Sweden should leave the EU, strengthen its traditional values, and have a “more responsible immigration policy”.

Founded in 1988, the nationalist party has in recent years made a concerted effort to clean up its racist and xenophobic image.

It says 20 percent of its members are non-Swedes and notes the chief editor of the party's newspaper, Paula Bieler, is of Jewish and Roma descent.

“We will not hide the fact that we have made mistakes in our past that have made it a lot easier for our opponents to put these labels on us,” notes a document on the Sweden Democrats distributed by the EFD.

SD says most of its "mistakes" were made in the early 90s.

However a 2014 report by Swedish magazine Expo says local representatives in 2008 funded Nazi groups. A year later, an undercover journalist from the Swedish national Radio recorded party members singing nazi songs.

And last year, a local representative was fined for equating rape and assault on women with Muslim culture.

The Latvian

Iveta Grigule was born in 1964 and elected MEP on the Union of Greens and Farmers list.

In a letter attached to her CV, Grigule says her party supports the "aspirational" EU goals of peace but is against further federalisation.

Grigule is hoping to secure more EU subsidies to Latvian farmers.

"We will do everything possible to achieve much fairer direct payment systems to our farmers, as well as increasing the funding available from the EU budget to Latvian entrepreneurs," she says.

1980s aerobatics champion

A stunt pilot, former prime minister, former president, and former mayor of Vilnius, 58-year old Rolandas Paksas became an MEP in 2009.

A vice-chair in the EFD and a member of the parliament’s bureau in the outgoing legislature, Paksas sat on a number of committees, drafted opinions, and issued reports.

The career politician is also the first head of state in Europe to have been impeached.

He was removed from office just after one year into his presidency in 2004, accused of violated his oath and the Lithuanian Constitution over his alleged links to Russian organised crime.

'Grillage' people

Aside from Farage's Ukip party, which wants the UK to leave the European Union and which is strongly in favour of clamping down on immigration, are the 17 Five Star MEPs from Italy.

After a brief flirtation with joining the pro-EU Green group, the party decided by an internal "referendum" to hook up with Farage.

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

Correction - the original article said the Sweden Democrats vice president had equated rape and assault on women with Muslim culture. In fact, it was a local representative. Meanwhile the article also said that the current leader was recorded singing nazi songs - this was not the case.

Nikolaj Nielson reported from Brussels, Florence Morice reported from France and Ylva Nilsson reported from Sweden

European 'United Left' searches for unity

Among the newly-elected leftist MEPs, one person in particular is attracting attention, Italy’s Barbara Spinelli, the daughter of Altiero Spinelli.

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Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

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