Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

Ukip, Lega Nord form hard-right bloc in EU Parliament

A mosaic of right-wing eurosceptics and hard-right anti-immigrant parties have cobbled together enough MEPs to form a new political group out of the ashes of the Independence-Democracy group in the European Parliament.

With the centre-left oriented eurosceptics from Denmark and Sweden within the Ind/Dem group soundly defeated in the June European elections, its right wing - already home to the Popular Orthodox Rally, or LAOS - the Greek nationalist outfit - was free to seek out allies amongst other parties well to the right of the conservative mainstream.

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  • Ukip is getting into bed with anti-immigrant populists (Photo: Florie Bassingbourn)

The new group, which is set to be launched on Wednesday (1 July) has yet to firm up its name, but is likely to be either A Europe of Free Peoples or A Europe of Peoples for Liberty, although the word 'Independence' may yet be retained somewhere in the title.

Whatever its final formation, the name reflects the Ukip-Lega-Nord axis that represents the core leadership of the new group. Italy's Lega-Nord or Northern League, in government domestically, is to join with the British eurosceptics from their now defunct grouping in the parliament, the conservative Union for a Europe of the Nations (UEN).

Ukip, with its 13 deputies, is pushing to hold on to the word that makes up part of its own party name, while for the nine MEPs of the Northern League - which holds to the concept of Il Popolo Padano, the inhabitants of the northern regions of Italy, which they refer to as Padania - the inclusion of the word "people" in its volkisch sense is "fundamental," according to a Northern League source.

The new "Liberty" grouping combines the two parties together with the two deputies of LAOS and an MEP the Political Reformed Party (Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, SGP), a party from the Dutch Protestant right emphasising moral issues - both of which were within the old Ind/Dem grouping in the last parliament - as well as two from the Danish People's Party, and one each from the True Finns and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists.

Libertas France, the successor to the sovereignist Movement Pour La France of Philippe de Villiers, which was in the Ind/Dem group as well, will keep its two MEPs in the new formation.

In total, the group will have at launch around 30 deputies from seven countries, meeting the European Parliament's new tighter threshold of 25 MEPs from seven member states in order to access public funds for staff, research and campaigns.

Sources close to the discussions reckon there will likely be additional deputies "from a couple of other member states" either at the launch or subsequently, but who have not made any firm commitments.

As the balance between left and right euroscepticism no longer needs to be managed, a joint presidency is also expected to be junked.

It is thought that talks have not extended to the Austrian Freedom Party or its namesake in the Netherlands led by Geert Wilders, and bringing on board the Flemish hard-right separatists of the Vlaams Belang has been ruled out as well. The Northern League would in any case make an unlikely ally for the Austrians, who have never stopped seething about the loss of the South Tyrol after the First World War.

Anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, gay-baiting

While Ukip is both conservative and eurosceptic and has worked with other hard-right parties before, now a majority of the parties in the new formation come from the 'softer' side of Europe's extreme right, banging the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic drum while distancing themselves from outright fascists.

The True Finns, in the process of overtaking the local Green League as fourth biggest party domestically, have introduced immigrant-baiting rhetoric to Finland, which until recently had seen very little far-right activity compared to other European countries.

Late last year, party member Jussi Halla-aho described in a blog foreigners as criminals and called asylum seekers "African gang rapists" and "parasites." Mr Halla-aho has since been charged with hate crimes faces up to two years in jail if convicted.

Meanwhile Søren Krarup of the Danish People's Party, has said "Islam has for 1,400 years attempted to conquer and repress European Christianity." In 2007, he described the religion as "a totalitarian regime that has thousands of human lives on its conscience."

"The headscarf is a symbol of this regime and the Qur'an may very well be compared with Hitler's 'Mein Kampf'," he said at the time.

Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard for her part has accused Muslim organisations of being a "fifth column" in Danish society and in 2006, a newspaper revealed that undercover journalists posing as members of the neo-Nazi Dansk Front had been given the okay to join the party so long as they kept their far-right views private by half of a party district committee.

The request for membership was turned down and nine party members were expelled, but the incident nevertheless embarrassed the party, which is trying to distance itself from groups that are explicitly fascist.

Ukip however feels itself to be insulated from accusations of cosying up to unsavoury elements as its key partner, the Northern League, is part of Italy's governing coalition. Nevertheless, the party's leader, Umberto Bossi, in 2003 called migrants from Africa "bingo-bongos" and said boats of irregular migrants attempting to disembark in Italy should be fired upon.

Giancarlo Gentilini, deputy mayor of Treviso and member of the party, in 2007 called for the "ethnic cleansing" of homosexuals.

"I will immediately give orders to my forces so that they can carry out an ethnic cleansing of faggots," he told a local television station.

"The faggots must go to other [cities] where they are welcome. Here in Treviso there is no chance for faggots or the like."

In Venice in 2007, he taunted Pecoraro Scanio, then minister of the environment under Romano Prodi and the first Italian minister to come out as bisexual, by saying: "In Gorgo, a woman was raped with a chisel in the back and in the front. I say to Pecoraro Scanio that I want the same thing happens to his mother and his sister." Mr Scanio is a popular target for Northern League insults, with a banner at a festival organised by the League in 2005 reading: "Rape Pecoraro."

He has also said of immigrants: "We should dress them up as rabbits and go bang, bang, bang with a rifle."

In 2006, the Northern League was expelled from the Ind/Dem group after MEP Roberto Calderoli wore a T-shirt depicting one of the notorious Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad.

Far-right ‘lite'

Graeme Atkinson, the European editor of Searchlight, the respected UK journal that reports on the activities of the far right told EUobserver: "This basically is the far-right 'lite' forming a group, a community of interest, with Ukip's help - right-wingers more of a populist than fascist character."

"While not welcome, this is probably partly deliberate, in order to keep the like of the genuinely fascist far-right from forming an officially recognised group," he added.

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