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Special Report
Last Updated: 01/05/2015
Far-Right Parties in the European Parliament
Thomas Wagner-Nagy

Key terms: Eurosceptics, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, far-right parties, political agenda, European Parliament


Eurosceptics in the European Parliament - A cause beyond causing disruption?

Half a year has passed since elections to the European Parliament sent tremors through the continent. Anti-European Union parties gained landslide victories across the continent and even topped the polls in Denmark, France, Greece and the United Kingdom. The most notable victories occurred in France, with the far-right Front National (FN) taking 25 percent of the votes, as well as in Britain, where the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) garnered 26.8 percent. "A noteworthy feature of the election results in both of these countries is that parties with 25 percent or more of the votes are no longer marginal, but potential government parties"[1], as Sanna Salo from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs notes in a post-election government briefing paper.

In total, nationalists and the so-called Eurosceptics account for about one-third of MEPs in the 751-seat parliament.[2] While most of them sit as Independents, some of them have managed to form an alliance and act as a parliamentary group, which gives them extended funding options and time allotted for speaking.

Their 48-member strong Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) Group is dominated by its main pilars, the UKIP (24 members) and the Italian Five Star Movement (17 members). The other nations in the alliance, Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden, contribute only one or two representatives each.

Globalization has produced winners and losers

What made Europeans from wealthy Scandinavia to austerity-battered Greece, from the UK as an immigration country to Hungary with a very low immigration rate give their vote to right-wing parties that are against the European Union?

The political establishment in both the EP and the member states was quick to label the Eurosceptics as populists and their victories as nothing more than a result of mere protest votes to teach the ruling elite a lesson. While this undeniably played a role with the voters' decision, it would be short-sighted to reduce the debate to this one factor.

The fast-progressing European integration has long gone beyond the merely economic union that it was originally meant to be. This integration in the spheres of economy, politics, law and culture has produced new, latent political groups: globalization winners and losers. Mainstream parties have long failed to close or even acknowledge this growing gap. Protest parties in turn have skillfully utilized the cleavage by mobilizing the group of globalization losers. This economic underclass, feeling threatened by both increasing economic competition and cultural diversity in Europe, has produced the Eurosceptic surge – which should, accordingly, not be regarded merely as populism or protest, but as legitimate representative politics.[3]

While there is some overlap in their agendas, a closer look at the eurosceptic parties shows that it is hard to find one common denominator other than the anti-EU sentiment that could unite all of these groups. For example, other Eurosceptics refused to cooperate with the French Front National due to the party’s anti-semitic past. Yet the AfD, an anti-immigration party that is mobilizing on a more economic agenda, managed to join the ECR group dominated by British Conservatives, while UKIP managed to form its EFDD group.[4]

The lack of a common cause other than dismantling the EU is best reflected in the low cohesion rate when it comes to decisions in the EP: From July to mid-November 2014, the EFDD group voted unanimously on only 54 percent of the votes while all other groups had an average cohesion rate of 85 percent.[5]

A new tone in the European Parliament

The Eurosceptics were quick to give a foretaste on how they hope to change the EP debating culture through their particular tone. "Mr Juncker has had a rough ride in the British press. We're told that he drinks cognac for breakfast. We're told he's Juncker the drunker", Farage told the plenum with a smirk in the constitutive session of the newly elected EP. According to him, the only way to convince the British voters to vote to remain part of the EU "is a fundamental treaty change that says we no longer have to accept untrammeled access to countless millions of people from across the whole of Europe." Farage went on to project that "the next five years will bring endless misery for the Southern Mediterranean Eurozone countries."

After Farage's opening speech, Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian MEP of the Greens group, intervened: "Mr Farage, what are you doing here? What I heard is the speech of the leader of the opposition in the house of commons. If you want to hold that speech, get elected there. [...] If you want to be considered as the leader of a European political group then make speeches of a European political leader."

Farage, who is eloquent and quick on the comeback, responded: "You sound like somebody from the old communist era. What you have to get used to is the idea that across the political spectrum there are now more Eurosceptics in this parliament than have ever been and many of them do not subscribe to ever closer union, they don't subscribe to that [European] flag, they don't want a European anthem. And I tell you this, Mr Lamberts", he concluded, "don't worry too much about my presence, because within the next five years, I won't be here."

The need to form an alliance - at all costs

There is no doubt the Eurosceptics have shaken up the European Parliament. But they themselves have also had quite a rollercoaster ride since they entered the terrain of European politics. Mostly stuck in a role of fundamental opposition domestically, their particular leaders are now forced to cooperate in a parliamentary group if they want to have more influence and receive additional funds. 25 Members are needed to form such a political group, and at least one-quarter of the Member States must be represented within the group.[6] UKIP leader Nigel Farage took the lead in forming an alliance with MEPs from seven different countries and succeeded. Some EFDD parties had put huge efforts into polishing their often xenophobic, racist reputation in order to be perceived as respectable office-seeking parties, both in the EP and at domestic levels.[7]

After only four months, the EFDD experienced a setback when Iveta Grigule, the sole member from the Latvian Farmers Union, quit to sit as an independent.[8] The loss of this one member meant that only six as opposed to the required seven countries were represented in the block which therefore lost its group status and with it the privileges of special funding from the legislature as well as stronger entitlements to committee seats. A new member had to be found to regain the group status.

The EFDDs opponents who insisted that its image campaigns were designed to camouflage extreme political agendas viewed the search for an MEP to replace the Latvian as proof of their point. In a move that sparked heavy criticism, the EFDD parties allowed Polish MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz from the Congress of the New Right to join the group.[9] "I joined the EFDD Group because of two important values - opposition to EU bureaucracy and support for free markets so firmly supported by the Ukip delegation," was Iwaszkiewicz's official explanation for his decision. His party, however, is very controversial for antisemitic and homophobic comments and its extreme positions, which include restoring capital punishment and liberalising gun laws.

The party's leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who gave his blessing to "lend" his party member Iwaszkiewicz to Farage in oder to rescue the Eurosceptic alliance, is a self-declared monarchist who thinks that democracy is the "stupidest form of government ever conceived". He has repeatedly questioned voting rights for women arguing that most women were not interested in politics anyway and would statistically often vote for a welfare state.[10] He thinks women's opinions are shaped by the semen of the men they sleep with and that there is a very fine line between rape and consensual sex, because "women usually pretend that they don't want [sex]" when in fact they want it. His view on welfare is equally disturbing: “If someone gives money to an unemployed person he should have his hand cut off because he is destroying the morale of the people”, he said in an interview.[11] The extremist politician, who has also argued for years that there is no proof Hitler knew about the Holocaust, hinted at further potential deals with Farage's alliance after the successful rescue swap. “If we create our own group, perhaps Mr Farage can lend us a member of his party also,” he said. Korwin-Mikke suggested that he and the UKIP leader share many similar political goals: “He wants to destroy the European Union, and even Lucifer or Beelzebub who is against the European Union is our ally, because it is the greatest danger to Europe.”[12]

Farage, who faced heavy criticism for his decision, told the BBC that he had never spoken to Iwaszkiewicz but he had found “nothing in this guy’s background to suggest that he is a political extremist at all.”[13] “All of us in the European parliament have to make compromises to make sure our voice is heard. I want us to have our voice. I want us to be heard. But I will not do it at any price, so if it came to a decision that do we cast Ukip to the outer darkness of the non-attached group, or do a deal with a known prominent extremist in Europe, I would not do that deal”, he vowed. Well, it seems he has done that very deal.

The list of Korwin-Mikke's racist and misogynist statements is so long and offensive that even Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National and Geert Wilders' right-wing Freedom Party decided his party was too extreme for an alliance. The fact that the EFDD accepted a member of Korwin-Mikke's party leaves room for two explanations:

Either the alliance does not share his values but is just so desperate in its attempt to destroy the EU that it would accept and exploit anybody to reach its ultimate goal. Or the EFDD members and their rescuer's party are indeed ideologically closer to one another than the eloquent leaders want the public to believe. None of the two scenarios would be encouraging.

While Iwaszkiewicz himself is not as extreme as his boss in voicing his opinions publicly, he is not short of scandalous statements either: In an interview with the Wroclaw Gazette in May of this year, he was quoted as saying "unfortunately, I never beat my children". Asked why he had said "unfortunately", he explained: "Because it would have toughened them up. It would have strengthened their character and they would be able to behave better in crisis situations." When asked about wife-beating, Iwaszkiewicz said he was "convinced" that beating would "help bring many wives back down to earth".[14] With regard to this, Farage's celebratory statement after the restoration of his alliance sounds even more cynical: "EFDD Group back with a bang", he headlined on the group's website.

Fuzzy political agenda

Jean-Claude Juncker has been a thorn in the Eurosceptics' flesh from the moment he ran for President of the European Parliament. When criticism arose about his role as Luxembourg's Premier in helping global companies avoid taxes, Farage's alliance spearheaded a move to impeach Juncker and dissolve his Commission only weeks after it had been formed. The EFDD collected enough signatures and submitted a motion of censure of the European Commission to the President of the European Parliament.

The EFDD website quoted Italian Five Star Movement MEP Marco Zanni : “The LuxLeaks scandal shows that Commission President Juncker in his political life has always acted to enrich his country behind its European partners, in defiance of the Union and the Community spirit he hopes to represent. For this reason, the 5 Star Movement Europe decided to use one of the strongest powers of democratic control at the disposal of Parliament - the motion of censure - to demand the resignation of the Commission.” UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe commented: "UKIP promised at the beginning of this mandate to be ‘EU rebels with a cause’ [...] and this censure motion shows that we mean business."[15]

So far, the EFDD has mainly proven that it is willing to welcome blunt racists and misogynists in its rows in order to gain power and influence. The next few years will show whether this Eurosceptic alliance really has a cause beyond causing as many disturbances as possible in their quest to dismantle the European Union.

It is important to note that a healthy scepticism towards an ever closer union where states hand more and more competences to the EU which is dominated by a wealthy few nations is much-needed in the European discourse. The major problem is: Political parties that deal with this concern come along with an entire package that often contains inhumane, extreme, xenophobic or even bluntly racist agendas - in some cases to an extent that suggests their euroscepticism is nothing more but a useful smokescreen to bring their ideas to a big stage. It will be the mainstream democratic parties' challenge not to let extremist parties capitalize on the issues and fears that have long been neglected.



[1]Salo, S. (2014). Eurosceptics in the 2014 EP elections - Protest parties mobilized on national cleavages between globalization winners and losers (Briefing Paper 159). The Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29692378

[3]Salo, S. (2014). Eurosceptics in the 2014 EP elections - Protest parties mobilized on national cleavages between globalization winners and losers (Briefing Paper 159). The Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

[4]Salo, S. (2014). Eurosceptics in the 2014 EP elections - Protest parties mobilized on national cleavages between globalization winners and losers (Briefing Paper 159). The Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

[5]http://www.votewatch.eu/en/term8-political-group-cohesion.html

[6]http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/007f2537e0/Political-groups.html

[7]Salo, S. (2014). Eurosceptics in the 2014 EP elections - Protest parties mobilized on national cleavages between globalization winners and losers (Briefing Paper 159). The Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

[8]http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/10/16/uk-eu-parliament-radicals-idUKKCN0I51CK20141016

[9]http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2014-10/europaparlament-europa-skeptiker-ukip-fraktion

[10]http://sz-n.com/2014/04/leader-of-polands-euro-sceptic-party-believes-women-should-not-have-right-to-vote/

[11]http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/08/nigel-farage-ukip-europe-janusz-korwin-mikke

[12]http://rt.com/uk/204047-farage-links-european-racist/

[13]http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-29706994

[14]http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/20/ukip-robert-jaroslaw-iwaszkiewicz-_n_6015116.html

[15] http://www.efdgroup.eu/news/press-releases/item/motion-of-censure-to-sack-juncker-commission-submitted-by-members-of-efdd-group


Thomas Wagner-Nagy is a freelance journalist currently based in Germany. He holds a BA in Science Journalism with a minor in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Dortmund. Born in Transylvania/Romania and raised in Germany, his work has taken him to France, Cameroon and Costa Rica. He graduated from the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in June 2014 with an MA in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies. Thomas is currently working to establish his own NGO which aims to provide schooling and a leisure program for children in refugee camps.
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