MEPs look for ways to defund far-right party
Members of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee (Afco) have said they are not obliged to fund parties that don't respect the founding principles of the EU, in a hearing with representatives of the Alliance for Peace and Freedom on Thursday (9 February).
Hungarian MEP Gyorgy Schopflin said his centre-right EPP group was committed to freedom of speech, but not to funding parties that represent "ideas directly contrary to the EU".
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"These are legitimate in terms of debate, but not to receive financing from the EU institutions," he said. "The European Parliament decides for itself how it wants to spend its money".
Schopflin is one of two MEPs in charge of the committee's probe into whether the Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF) complies with the founding principles of the EU.
Afco's members refer to a parliamentary rule, which says EU money can only go to parties that respect “the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”.
It is the first time the parliament tries to enforce this rule.
Last year, MEPs awarded €600,000 to APF, a pan-EU party founded in February 2015.
Looking for anti-European values
APF brings together parties that have been described as neo-Nazi and fascist: Italy's Forza Nuova, Greece's Golden Dawn, the Party of the Danes, Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD), and Czech anti-Roma DSSS.
Nick Griffin, a Holocaust denier who was expelled from the British National Party for being too extreme, is also a board member.
Marita Ulvskog, a Swedish social democrat, said EU money had financed an APF rally in Stockholm last year, where representatives of different Nazi, fascist and white power movements gathered and sang an "anti-Semitic song blaming terror attacks, the war in Afghanistan, and feminism, on the Jews".
She said APF secretary-general Stefan Jacobson was also the editor of Logik, a publishing house that brought to the Swedish market The Turner Diaries, a book that has been called the "bible of the far-right", and which calls for the extermination of Jews and homosexuals.
She said APF president, Roberto Fiore, a veteran neo-Fascist, was convicted for the 1980 terrorist attacks in Bologna.
Jacobsson said the song was a cover on a humour sketch by Henrik Dorsin, a Swedish comedian.
"I don't think he [Dorsin] hates all the gays. They [rally participants] made fun of the song in a different way," Jacobsson said.
Fiori said he had been falsely implicated in the Bologna bombing and that he will sue Ulvskog, who is covered by parliamentary immunity, for defamation.
He told MEPs they were wrong to stop funding his party, which stands for a "Europe of sovereign nations" and celebrates "Christian values and European cultural heritage" in its programme.
"You cannot say that you have to be a liberal to be part of the [European] family... I know perfectly the spirit of Europe. My wife is Basque and eight of my children were born in the UK. I know you don't agree with our ideas, but it doesn't matter. We are probably saying a lot of things that will become more popular in the future," Fiori, an ex-MEP, said.
"I ask you to have a political consciousness and understand that these ideas are debatable. And because they don't infringe anything at all, they should be respected. We should be treated like any other party," he said.
The European Parliament has been rocked by several scandals related to the misspending of EU money, but APF wasn't one of the parties involved.
Other ways to defund APF
Its representatives said they couldn't be hold responsible for Nazi and fascist ideas in general, or even for the behaviour of their members outside APF activities.
The hearing was part of Afco's probe, which was launched last May. The committee will now seek the opinion of "independent, eminent persons".
The plenary will then vote on whether the APF has complied with the criteria for being recognised as a European political party.
APF's legal representative, Peter Richter, told EUobserver his client had also sued the parliament for cracking down on party funding to far-right parties.
Last December, the parliament's bureau said some parties, including APF, must have a top-rated bank to back the application of parties, in case they spend their funds improperly.
Richter told this website APF had not been able to secure a bank guarantee and that it had filed a lawsuit against the parliament with the EU general court in Luxembourg.