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30/09/2016

European Parliament funding of neo-Nazi conference rings alarm bells

Euro & Finance

European Parliament funding of neo-Nazi conference rings alarm bells

Alliance for Peace and Freedom's most recognised face, NIck Griffin. The former head of the neo-Nazi British National Party (2009-2014), Griffin is a rare European leader in EU fascist circles.

[Patriotic Populist/YouTube]

The far-right Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF) party has received EU-funding to the tune of €600,000, highlighting the ease with which neo-fascist groups have access to European Parliament financing. EurActiv Germany reports.

“It is a terrible and disturbing state of affairs that we are helping to finance such activities,” Swedish MEP Marita Ulvskog told EurActiv.de, in relation to a financing scandal uncovered by the Expo Foundation. Expo, a Swedish anti-racism magazine, reported that the Parliament had granted €400,000 to a foundation linked to the APF and a further €197,625 in funding that will be used to organise a neo-Nazi meeting in Stockholm this summer.

Both sums were paid out on account of financial applications that the APF made last year through the usual Parliament channels.

“Manhem Day” on 28 May will be a meeting of right-wing extreme organisations, organised by “Europa Terra Nostra”, the chairman of which is Dan Eriksson. Eriksson is well known on the Swedish far-right landscape and Swedish and German neo-Nazis will use the May meeting to up their cooperation.

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The matter has triggered a political earthquake in the Parliament, amongst all parties. “It cannot and should not be the case that we financially support the enemies of Europe and their fascist and racist incitement,” warned Parliament Vice-President Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA).

S&D group MEP Daniele Viotti (Partito Democratico) called for a quick response and announced his intention to raise the issue with the Presidency of the Parliament.

Manfred Weber (CSU), chair of the EPP group, wrote in an urgent letter to Parliament President Martin Schulz, as well as the heads of the other parliamentary groups, that the “worst right-wing extremists and neo-fascists” must see their funding cut, as such “extremists” threaten the very foundations of our society. For the conservatives to come out so strongly against the right-wing element is rare.

When asked how a Nazi conference could possibly be funded by Parliament money, Viotti speculated that the budget committee might not be evaluating every request on an individual basis. If that is the case, Viotti said that it will have to be established how this could have happened.

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Lutz Bachmann, one of the founders of the German xenophobic PEGIDA movement, was put on trial in Dresden yesterday (18 April). The prosecution accuses him of having repeatedly harassed refugees and migrants on social media and inciting hatred. EurActiv Germany reports.

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The European Parliament’s press office confirmed that APF’s application was submitted on time in 2015 and was officially approved through the proper channels in December. There is the possibility of a “post-verification” of awarded grants, if there are sufficient grounds for its implementation. However, the legislature’s spokesperson did not elaborate on whether there would be a different result, if the application were to be reassessed using the same criteria as before.

Besides more formal criteria, the European Parliament requires financial applications pay a certain amount of lip service to certain EU standards. The APF, after legal counsel, did exactly that, reusing parts of EU guidelines verbatim.

The funding criteria makes no actual demands that an applicant include detailed explanations about how their activities will promote or be in accordance with EU values, but it does expect appropriate language and signal words such as “freedom”, “human rights” and “democracy”. The foundation fulfilled that to the letter.

Europa Terra Nostra’s charter, which can be read on its website, mentions the “principles of the European Union. These are freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.” This is a near identical version of what is written in EU Regulation No. 2003/2004, in a paragraph dedicated to the funding criteria for political parties.

Two years ago, the Parliament announced that the way in which parties are funded should be tightened. “We have upped transparency,” said Marietta Giannakou of the Greek cente-right party, New Democracy. The new rules are intended to prevent parties that abuse EU standards from appropriating funding.

However, these rules are not expected to come into force until 2017, a fact that Ulvskog acknowledged. It has also been suggested that the rules will still contain loopholes, which “a party, which is reasonably clever and which doesn’t say in its charter that it is racist” could still benefit from, a parliamentary insider who worked on the draft text told EurActiv.de.

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What makes the case even more interesting is that the APF, unlike other right-wing parties such as the European Alliance for Freedom, makes no overtures to larger society and seems to care little about how the party is actually perceived.

Its founder, Roberto Fiore, fled to the United Kingdom in the 1980s when wanted for questioning by the Italian police as he was the linked to the Bologna massacre carried out on 2 August 1980.

Today, he calls himself a fascist and believes himself and the party to be a member of the new European avant-garde. In 2008, he occupied a seat in the Parliament, as a substitute for Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italy’s former Duce, Benito.

Even Golden Dawn, Greece’s neo-Nazi political party, does little to conceal its fascist mindset. Numerous party members and cadres have ended up in court accused of murders and attacks carried out against left-wing elements and immigrants.

It still remains unclear how such political movements could be granted funding, given the presidency of the institution’s hardline approach to right-wing extremism and racism.

Background

Since July 2004, European political parties have been able to receive annual funding from the European Parliament. The funding takes the form of an operating grant. It can cover up to 85% of the eligible expenditure of a party, while the rest should be covered by own resources such as membership fees and donations.

What can and what cannot be paid from the grant?

The grant can be used to meet the expenditure directly linked to the objectives set out in the party's political programme, such as:

  • meetings and conferences
  • publications, studies and advertisements
  • administrative, personnel and travel costs
  • campaign costs connected to European elections

This is called eligible expenditure. However, the grant cannot be used to meet expenditure such as:

  • campaign costs for referenda and elections (except for European elections)
  • direct or indirect funding of national parties, election candidates and political foundations both at national and at European level
  • debts and debts service charges.

Who sets the rules for funding?

The legal basis can be found in article 10 paragraph 4 of the Treaty on European Union and article 224 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The rules of funding are laid down by a regulation adopted by the Council and the Parliament. It has been revised in order to improve the conditions for funding. The implementing rules are adopted by the Parliament's bureau.