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01/10/2016

Extreme-right MEPs cost taxpayers one million euros a month

Science & Policymaking

Extreme-right MEPs cost taxpayers one million euros a month

Le Pen and Wilders celebrate after forming the Europe of Nations and Freedom group in June 2015.

[Wilders/Twitter]

EXCLUSIVE / Extreme-right MEPs in the Europe of Nations and Freedom have cost EU taxpayers more than an estimated €1 million a month since the European Parliament group was formed almost a year ago.

The group of 39 MEPs is led by Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, and includes some of most racist politicians in Europe.

By the first anniversary of its June formation it will have cost the EU just under €13m in salaries, running costs, and expenses.

But the true figure is likely to be even higher. EurActiv.com’s calculations do not include MEPs’ generous travel costs, which are fully reimbursed to a maximum of a first class train ticket or business class air fare. Car journeys are repaid at €0.50 per km.

While MEPs can choose to publish details of their travel expenses, they are under no obligation to do so.

With three years until the 2019 European Parliament elections, the EU taxpayer remains on the hook for another €39m.

European Parliament rules do not prevent money being awarded to far-right groups.

Unacceptable

European Network Against Racism Chair Sarah Isal said, “It is unacceptable that a political group including MEPs who regularly incite hatred in their discourses is supported by taxpayers’ money.

“The fact that they now have more influence and speaking time in the European Parliament is allowing them to air racist and xenophobic statements in the chamber.

“We need clear rules and sanctions against hate speech in the European Parliament to stop the growing feeling of impunity.”

EU rules say that MEPs can form groups if they can gather at least 25 MEPs from at least seven EU countries.

Le Pen had tried to set up a group immediately after the 2014 European Parliament elections but could not get enough countries to meet the criteria.

A year later, disgraced MEP Janice Atkinson was expelled from UKIP after an expenses scandal. Atkinson joined forces with Le Pen and the group was born in June last year. Since then the group has grown to 39 MEPs.

UKIP expels MEP Janice Atkinson

Britain’s populist UKIP party said it has expelled Janice Atkinson, a member of the European Parliament, following her suspension last week over what it called “allegations of a serious financial nature”, the BBC reported.

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A European Parliament press officer said that democratically-elected MEPs from different EU countries could form groups on the basis of their political affinities.

Such groups received a secretariat and administrative facilities, funded by the parliament’s budget. This money cannot be used to finance any electoral campaigns or political parties, the officer said.

“All MEPs are directly elected by their national electorates – the European Parliament does not question the choices made by the members states, of course,” the officer said.

“What is more all the MEPs must abide by the code of conduct which is based on EU’s values and principles,” the officer said.

“It sets out as its guiding principles that members shall act solely in the public interest and conduct their work with disinterest, integrity, openness, diligence, honesty, accountability and respect for the European Parliament’s reputation.”

How the figures stack up

By June, Europe of Nations and Freedom will have spent €3.1m on running costs. It was awarded a €1.54m grant to set up a pan-European political party and €249,331 for a far-right think tank the same year.

Each of those MEPs is paid €96,246 euros a year, landing the public purse with a €3.75m bill every 12 months.

In addition, every MEP is paid a flat rate allowance of €306 per day by the Parliament to “cover all other expenses”, provided they sign a register to prove they have entered the building.

The allowances registers are “not considered public documents” by the parliament, so it is not possible to get the exact figure claimed by the far-right MEPs.

European Parliament sources said that the average number of working days when the allowance can be claimed is about 200 a year.

If all 39 MEPs were to claim over 200 days their full €61,200 allowance, the annual cost would be €2.4m.

Every MEP is entitled to a general expenditure allowance, which in 2015 was set at €4,320 a month. Across the 39-strong group, that will rack up a €2.02m bill for the group’s MEPs over 12 months.

The grand total over 12 months is just over €13m, or €1.08m a month.

Rogue’s gallery

The group includes the Freedom Party of Austria (four MEPs), Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (one), the National Front (20), Italy’s Lega Nord (5), the Party for Freedom (four Dutch MEPs) and Poland’s Congress of the New Right (2).

Marcus Pretzell of Alternative für Deutschland joined after the German MEP was expelled from the European Conservatives and Reformist Group earlier this year.

Pretzell was forced out of the ECR after the AFD lurched towards far-right islamophobic policies, with leader Frauke Petry calling fort firearms to be used to prevent illegal border crossings by refugees.

AfD links to Austrian far-right 'final straw' for ECR MEPs

Alternative für Deutschland’s links to the far-right Freedom Party of Austria was the final straw for members of the EU Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists group, which yesterday (8 March) voted to kick out the German Eurosceptics .

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Independent Romanian MEP Laurențiu Rebega joined the group in July 2015. Aymeric Chaupraude quit Le Pen’s group and party in November 2015 after being elected as a National Front MEP.

Vlaams Belang was recently criticised for setting up a website encouraging people to report on their Muslim neighbours in the wake of the Brussels terror attacks. Austria’s Freedom Party has led anti-refugee protests, some of which ended in violence, in Vienna.

Islamwatch website launched after Brussels attacks ‘breaks racism laws’

A Flemish nationalist website urging Belgians to report their Muslim neighbours for carrying out “halal slaughter…in the bathtub or on the balcony” breaks EU and national hate laws, anti-racism campaigners have told EurActiv.com..

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Gianluca Buonanno MEP, of the Lega Nord, was last month forced to pay €6,000 compensation after calling Roma “the scum of society” on a television programme.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), is going on trial for inciting racial hatred against Dutch Moroccans.

In December last year, Marine Le Pen was acquitted of inciting hatred against French Muslims for comparing Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation of France during the Second World War.

The Polish Congress of the New Right opposes same sex marriage. Its former leader Janusz Korwin Mikke, ousted last year, was fined €3,040 in September 2014 for making racist remarks in the European Parliament.

He has also said women should not be allowed to vote and that the difference between rape and consensual sex was “very subtle”. Korwin-Mikke is also on record as having said that Adolf Hitler “probably… was not aware that Jews were being exterminated.

Background

At least 25 MEPs from seven different countries are need to form a political group, which then qualifies for funding and more influence in the European Parliament.

Further Reading

Le Pen's new EU Parliament group to scoop €17.5 million of public money

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, will today (16 June) announce the creation of Europe of Nations and Freedoms, a new far-right European Parliament group that will qualify for up to €17.5 million of EU money over the next four years.

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