Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group was hit Tuesday night (10 June) by reports that Lithuania’s Order and Justice Party had followed Italy’s Lega Nord in defecting to Marine Le Pen’s alliance of far right parties, as the UKIP leader told EurActiv he would ditch his European Parliament seat if elected to Britain's House of Commons next year.
Farage, the Chairman of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, and other nationally elected senior UKIP MEPs would be replaced by the next candidates on the party's lists without another vote, he said. The European Parliament's rules of procedure forbid members from holding seats in their national parliament and the European assembly at the same time.
The loss of Farage in May 2015 would hurt the group, which is currently reeling from a wave of desertions. EFD members have either joined Le Pen’s group, or the UK Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists.
The EFD is increasingly dependent on Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement for its political future (here). Five Star are expected to vote on EFD membership this week. UKIP sources were confident of making an announcement on Friday or Monday.
An EFD spokesman today denied that the Order and Justice Party would be moving to Le Pen's group. He said, "EFD Group formation is going very well this week. We are very confident of having the required signatures next week and those who don't want to have a moderate Eurosceptic group will be in for a big surprise."
The spokesman said that the EFD had spoken to the Lithuanians and Dutch MEP Bas Belder, rumoured to be moving to the ECR, and both would be staying. "All the rest is speculation and spin," he added.
Even with Five Star, the EFD could struggle to bring together the representatives from seven different member states it needs to form a group in the European Parliament and qualify for public funding. Parliament rules require at least 25 MEPs from seven member states to form a group.
Poland’s Kongres Nowej Prawicy were also reported to be joining Le Pen, taking the number of parties in her group to seven and the number of MEPs to 44. It will qualify for EU funding of about €22 million, excluding MEP salaries and expenses. With those taken into account, the taxpayer’s bill is close to €50 million (see here).
The far right alliance, including Le Pen's Front National, Lega Nord, the Netherlands' Freedom Party, Belgium's Vlaams Belang, the Freedom Party of Austria and the Lithuanian and Polish new arrivals, has reduced the pool of unattached parties and MEPs that the EFD needs to reform its own group.
Without Five Star’s 17 MEPs, the EFD could potentially cobble together enough parties to reform but it would be a much weaker and less influential force. UKIP has 24 MEPs.
Nel nuovo gruppo con FN: Lega, Pvv Olanda, Fpo Austria, Vlaams Belang Belgio, Congresso nuova destra Polonia e Ordine e giustizia Lituania
— Giovanna Pancheri (@giopank) June 10, 2014
— Cerstin Gammelin (@CerstinGammelin) June 10, 2014
— Bruno Waterfield (@BrunoBrussels) June 10, 2014
Farage’s admission he and any other nationally-elected MEPs would quit Brussels and Strasbourg for Westminster in May’s General Election throws the future of the group, and its levels of publicity and influence, further into question. A replacement chairman would have to be selected.
“There’d be no need for another election. The seat would simply go to the next person on the list,” he said.
UKIP sources said they expected to win between five and six national seats in the poll, as they seek to build on their local and European success.
Farage’s approach stands in contrast to Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, a member of Le Pen’s group. Wilders has decided to take up a seat in the European Parliament despite a ban on serving in two parliaments simultaneously (here).
Since Dutch rules do not prohibit such double mandates, the electoral commission is powerless to prevent Wilders from taking his seat in the European Parliament while keeping the one he already holds in the national parliament in The Hague.
Wilders, whose Freedom Party won four seats in European Parliamentary elections last month, said last week he would attempt to file a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice seeking a court ruling to overturn the regulation.
May 2015: UK General Election