Italy’s maverick 5 Star Movement should cut ties with the anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP) and consider hooking up with the Liberals in the European Parliament, 5 Star founder Beppe Grillo said yesterday (8 January).
If the surprise switch goes ahead, it would see 5 Star enter mainstream European politics and move away from the anti-system fringes, a shift that might reassure other EU capitals that have grown uneasy about its rising popularity.
Writing on his blog, Grillo said his party was in talks with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and asked 5 Star members to back the initiative in an online ballot.
ALDE is headed by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. He is a keen European federalist and his strong, pro-EU views would seem at odds with the Eurosceptic 5 Star, which has previously ridiculed the liberal leader. On Friday (6 January), Verhofstadt declared his candidacy for European Parliament presidency.
Guy Verhoftstadt officially entered the race to succeed Martin Schulz as president of the European Parliament today (6 January), a decision which could see him step down as the chief MEP on Brexit.
Grillo said he had also approached the Greens about a possible tie-up, but was rebuffed, adding ALDE was the only group willing to discuss an accord with his movement.
The anti-establishment 5 Star won 17 seats in the last European election in 2014 and linked up with Nigel Farage’s UKIP, which had 22 seats, to form the so-called Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) party.
But Grillo said the two parties had only voted together around 20% of the time over the past two and a half years.
He added that UKIP had achieved its political goal when Britain voted last year to leave the European Union.
“To stay in EFDD would mean we would face the next 2-1/2 years without a common policy objective,” Grillo wrote.
Doru Frantescu, co-founder, and Director of VoteWatch Europe, tweeted that the 5 Star Movement has voted similarly to ALDE in 50% of the cases, which is more than with UKIP, but less than with the Greens of with the far-left GUE/NGL.
UKIP is the single largest member of the EFDD group, raising the possibility it could fall apart once British MEPs leave the legislature at the end of their terms in 2019. There can be no British members of the European parliament once Britain completes its planned exit from the bloc.
UKIP’s Farage said he did not think 5 Star would survive long with the liberals. “In political terms, it would be completely illogical for 5 Star to join the most euro fanatic group in the European Parliament,” he said in a statement.
Some 5 Star politicians also denounced the unexpected proposal, while Grillo’s opponents lambasted his strategic shift, saying he was looking to join the pro-EU establishment.
“What a pity. (5 Star) is moving from the barricades to the comfy seats,” said Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-euro Northern League, which is Italy’s third largest party.
5 Star was founded in 2009 and has risen rapidly to become Italy’s main opposition party. It does not fit into any clearly defined political ideology, focusing its energies primarily on denouncing corruption and political wrongdoing, and counts former Communists, anarchists and environmentalists, along with right-wingers and anti-immigrant advocates in its ranks.
It has repeatedly called for a referendum on Italy leaving the euro single currency, and has criticised EU policies, but says it does not want Italy to abandon the European Union.
Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star movement, buoyed by its big gains in local elections, used its
Grillo said it was important for 5 Star to be part of an EU parliamentary group because that would give it greater visibility and influence. “Refusing to belong to a political group would mean … not being able to work,” he wrote.
He added that by forging an alliance with Verhofstadt, ALDE would become the third largest group in the EU parliament. “This means that in many cases we would hold the balance of power.”
The political groupings are important because not only do they provide more political visibility and the possibility of chairing various committees, but also up to €30 million ($32 million) in funding during the parliament’s five-year term.
Matteo Salvini, who leads Italy’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU Northern League party, called the proposal an “incredible Europeanist about face by Grillo!”
For a little more power in parliament “the Five Stars are abandoning a eurosceptic group to join ALDE, the group most in favour of a Europe belonging to the euro, banks, lobbies, and immigration”, he added.
M5S members can cast online ballots on Grillo’s proposal until midday (1100 GMT) on Monday (9 January).
David Carretta, the Brussels correspondent of Radio Radicale, tweeted that Grillo and Verhofstadt will meet today in Brussels to agree on their political union, and that the Swedish and Finnish liberals were against it.
Syvie Goulard, a prominent French liberal MEP, tweeted that she was against 5-Star joining the ALDE group.