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23rd Mar 2019

Farage's eurosceptic EP group falls apart

  • The departure of the Latvian MEP pushed the group below its quota (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

A narrow grey hallway on the seventh floor of the European Parliament was buzzing with journalists on Thursday (16 October).

In a small office, a young assistant was barely coping with ringing phones, emails, and knocks on the door, all wanting to know when her boss, Iveta Grigule, will be back or make a press statement.

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"I simply don't know. She is not here and I doubt she'll be back before next week," the assistant said.

The unusual attention for the Latvian MEP was due to the fact that earlier that day, Grigule resigned from the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, which led to the break-up of the faction.

Any EP group needs to have a minimum of 25 members from at least seven different countries. The EFDD, formed mostly of members of the UK Independence Party and Italy's Five Star Movement, had scraped together one MEP from the Czech Republic, France and Latvia, and two MEPs each from Lithuania and Sweden.

A meeting of political leaders chaired by EP president Martin Schulz on Thursday took note of the group breakup following Grigule's resignation.

In a press statement, EFDD claimed Grigule was "blackmailed" by the leaders of the two largest groups - the centre-right European People's Party and the Social-Democrats - in order to get the chairmanship of the EP-Kazakhstan delegation.

"Concerning her resignation, Ms Grigule told the secretary general of the EFDD group that 'I had to do it to get elected'," the EFDD statement reads.

The now-defunct group also complained that its members are being "systematically excluded from their expected positions in EP delegations and chairmanships under the D’Hondt system which is the normal practice over many years."

Both the EPP and the Social-Democrats rejected the accusations.

"It is not true that the EPP pressured Grigule in any way. She approached us for support for the chairmanship of the EU-Kazakhstan delegation and we said no," said Pedro Lopez de Pablo, spokesman of the EPP group.

His colleague from the Social-Democrats, Jan Bernas, also said there was no such "blackmail".

"When she realised she couldn't get the chairmanship, she quit. But there was absolutely no pressure from us or anybody else," Bernas told this website.

A spokesman for EP chief Martin Schulz, also accused of blackmail, said that the accusations are "unfounded." He also suggested Grigule herself wanted to leave the eurosceptic group.

"President Schulz met yesterday with MEP Iveta Grigule on a request coming from the MEP herself. MEP Grigule informed President Schulz that she intended to leave the EFDD group," Schulz spokesman John Schranz wrote in an emailed reply.

According to EP sources, the pro-Russia stance of Ukip leader Nigel Farage may have played a role in the Latvian's decision, whose party, the Latvian Farmers' Union, is in government coalition talks back home.

"In Latvia, there is no left or right, there are only pro-Russia and anti-Russia parties," an EP source quipped.

With the loss of his group, Farage, who recently said that migrants to the UK should be tested for HIV, will lose speaking time, a seat in political leaders' meetings and millions in funding money allocated to groups. In 2013, his group received €2.6 million.

But while many pro-EU politicians openly applaud the breakup of "Farage's group", they also worry that this will spur once again the French far right leader, Marine Le Pen, into having another go at forming a group of her own.

Back in the summer, Le Pen failed to gather MEPs from enough countries because Farage beat her to it.

As for the 17 MEPs from Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement in Italy, several of them are expected to join the Greens.

A spokesperson for the Greens told this website that the group hasn't received any formal applications yet, but that they are "open" to such moves.

"There have been lots of ongoing informal contacts since the elections and any of our MEPs have already established good working relations with the 5 Stelle members in different EP committees," the spokesperson added.

But one sticking point remains Grillo's clear anti-EU discourse, which contradicts the pro-EU views of the Greens.

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