A new far-right Eurosceptic group was formed in the European parliament yesterday (1 July), vowing to provide a "much-needed voice of opposition" and play an active role in the 'No' campaign ahead of the second Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum.
Speaking at the new group’s launch in Brussels, the new Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group’s Co-President Nigel Farage (UKIP) said that "the object and purpose of this group is to provide a voice of opposition within this [European] parliament" which he said was "very badly needed".
The new group consists of national parties strongly opposed to EU integration and immigration policies, and who favour returning power to sovereign nations.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Italy's Northern League (Lega Nord) are the group's two largest national 'delegations', with 13 and 9 MEPs respectively. Others include the Danish Peoples' Party, the True Finns party (Perussuomalaiset) and the Dutch Reformed Political Party (SGP).
Irish referendum campaign
As such, the group intends to "fight back" against the EU’s decision to "ignore the results of the Irish referendum and continue the implementation of the Constitutional Treaty".
"We will do our damnedest ahead of the second referendum to make sure that the people of Ireland understand that these so-called guarantees that they were given at the recent European summit, frankly, are not worth the paper they are written on," said Farage.
Like the recently formed European Conservative and Reform group (ECR), the EFD - which also has a UK party as its majority force - claims it will be a genuine opposition in the parliament.
However, leading Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, speaking to EurActiv, dismissed the EFD statement, arguing that "we are talking about people on the political extremes".
Van Orden stressed the "very sharp dividing line" between the EFD and the ECR, stating that that the real question is whether a group represents "mainstream parties of government," or whether its members are "crying from the sidelines."
No racists in our group, says Farrage
A number of the parties in the EFD have been variously described as far-right, anti-immigration, xenophobic and in some cases, racist, by both national and European media.
In order to combat these claims, the group’s political programme specifies that its members reject "xenophobia, anti-Semitism and any other forms of discrimination" while still believing strongly that the "nations of Europe have the right to protect their borders and strengthen their own historical, traditional and cultural values.
Speaking to EurActiv, EFD Co-President Nigel Farage of the UKIP said that in this sensitive area, "it’s a question of looking at individual parties and deciding whether they are groups that take a strong and principled stance against open borders, or whether they are groups dominated by a racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic agenda." He stressed that "all the members of the new group fall into the former as opposed to the latter camp".
However, van Orden argued that the other parties "don’t need to say that sort of thing, because we take it for granted". He went on to say that "if you look at some of the parties that wanted to join our [European Conservative] group and were rejected, this bears out the fact that we are a decent mainstream group".
Concluding the group’s launch event, Fiorelli Provera of the Italian Lega Nord party - the EFD’s second largest party with 9 MEPs to the UKIP’s 13 – said that "Europe needs to be built up not on government decisions, but on the will of the people".
Speaking at the new group’s launch in Brussels, EFD Co-President Nigel Farage (UKIP) denounced what he described as an integrationist "consensus" in the European Parliament.
"Some research that was done recently showed that the EPP [centre-righ] group and the PES group [socialists] voted together on major important items 97% of the time. There is an agreed consensus within the majority of this parliament that the European project must continue regardless".
"Most scandalously, 500 members of this last parliament voted to ignore the results of the Irish referendum and continue the implementation of the Constitutional Treaty. This group is here to fight back."
"We’ll begin that process with the second referendum coming up in Ireland. In the last referendum, we put out an 8-page booklet in every house in Ireland providing information about the Lisbon Treaty and its implications".
Morten Messerschmidt MEP of the Danish Peoples’ party, who has faced accusations of racism in his home country, said: "Our party is against EU policies on open borders and the democratic deficit. We will work as hard on these issues in the EU as we have in Denmark."
Dutch MEP Bastiaan Belder of the Reformed Political party (SGP) said that he endorsed the group’s opposition to a "European superstate," adding that he favoured a "Eurorealistic view" of EU integration.
Finnish MEP Timo Soini of the True Finns party (Perussuomalaiset) likewise hailed the group’s political orientation, arguing that "Euroscepticism is growing in Finland". "After 14 years [as of Finland’s EU membership] we have developed a strong resistance," he said.
Speaking to EurActiv in an interview, Elaine Cruikshanks, CEO of consultancy Hill and Knowlton's Brussels office, said she didn't expect new Eurosceptic parties to have a great influence on the new Parliament. "From past experience, it has to be said that those MEPs who have placed themselves on the fringes of the political spectrum are usually less open to an exchange of views, be it with lobbyists or with their fellow MEPs. As a consequence, they are hardly ever involved when deals are struck. I do not expect this to be much different in the new Parliament."