Green MEPs split on whether to woo Grillo deputies
The EP's Green group has formally rejected Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) bid for group membership, but some Green deputies are finding it hard to entirely give up on the idea of 17 extra colleagues.
The M5S, headed up by firebrand leader Beppe Grillo, entered talks last week with Nigel Farage's eurosceptic EFD group.
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These talks prompted the Greens to reject Grillo's subsequent political overtures.
Speaking to EUobserver, Green group leader Rebecca Harms ruled out any parallel negotiations with Grillo and his MEPs.
"To negotiate with Farage is putting the signal that they [M5S] have a completely different agenda than we have," said Harms.
But the door to a deal with the Grillo's people is not entirely shut.
Some among the Greens want to weaken Grillo by poaching some of his MEPs.
Among these is French Green vice-president Michele Rivasi.
In an email sent to the Greens' secretary general on Thursday (5 June) and seen by this website, Rivasi
speaks pragmatically about not wanting to "lose the opportunity to keep being one of the most important groups in the EP".
She recommends sending "constructive signals to the people from the M5S that are denouncing the populist and anti-European drift of their leader".
In her mail Rivasi points out that some of Grillo's 17 MEPs are proposing a political agenda which is closely aligned to the Greens'.
"We need to help them in exposing Grillo's contradictions about Europe. And help them not to join EFD (or maybe ECR), what Grillo is trying to do," she writes.
Part of her plan is to set up and engage in a live debate between Grillo and French Green vice-president Jose Bove.
But the positive signals from some parts of the Green group have irritated others in the group who want nothing to do with a party that is ready to join a eurosceptic faction.
Harms, for her part, said she was not aware of any official or unofficial approach towards any of the MEPs in the M5S.
She noted some members of Grillo's party may have similar ideas when it comes to environmental and social issues, but the fundamentals on European Union integration are different.
No worries in Nigel Farage's camp
Grillo's decision to approach the Greens came as no surprise to the EFD, according its spokesperson.
"We are aware, we were told in advance about all that," said EFD spokesperson, Hermann Kelly.
But some of EFD's biggest backers are set to leave, raising prospects the group may have to dissolve if it doesn't meet the minimum criteria.
An EP group needs to represent at least seven member states and have a minimum of 25 MEPs.
Italy's Lega Nord, the Finnish Finns party, and Morten Messerschmidt's Danish People's party are all deserting Farage's group.
But Kelly dismissed the concern.
"We've know this about the Danish People's party for about two years and the True Finn's [now known as the Finns] for about 3.5 years so it is no surprise what so ever," he said.
Despite the party departures, Kelly expects to see the EFD expand.
At 38 MEPs, EFD is the parliament's smallest group, but Kelly estimates it will have between 50 and 55 MEPs by the end of next week.
"We are very confident at the minute that we'll actually have a big group between 50 and 55 members and that everything works and it's just a matter now of turning verbal commitments into signatures," he said.
Other possible and likely party candidates to join the EFD for the moment include Lithuania's Order and Justice party with two deputies and the Czech Republic's Free Citizens' party with one.