A new far-right group in the European Parliament would be entitled to receive up to €50 million in EU funding over the next five years, a cash jackpot that party leaders admit could make or break the future success of the grouping led by France’s National Front.
Marine Le Pen’s FN needs at least two more MEPs from different EU countries before she can drive home her election success and form a new far-right group in the European Parliament.
The future grouping so far includes Geert Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom, the Freedom Party of Austria, Italy’s Lega Nord, and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang – two short to meet the threshold. At least 25 MEPs from 7 countries are need to form a political group.
The FN made significant gains in this year’s European Parliament elections, topping the French polls and returning 24 MEPs. Le Pen and her allies now want to translate that success into cash by forming a group and qualifying for public funding.
Vlaams Belang leader Gerolf Annemans admitted the public money was vital to build on that success.
“Yes,” he told EURACTIV on Wednesday (4 June), “and that is the reason why we started the formation of this group.”
“If we want the staffing, parliamentary assistance, and so on, resources are needed,” he added.
If successful, the group of far-right parties, who currently have 38 MEPs, will qualify for funding from the European Parliament budget. According to research by think tank Open Europe, based on 38 MEPs, it could apply for:
- an annual grant of €2,974,718.39 to set up and run the new group.
- a grant for a linked pan-European political party worth €895,830.73
- €572,210.71 for a linked political foundation or think tank
- amounting to €4,442,759.83 every year
- or about €22 million over the course of the parliament’s five year term.
MEPs are paid €96,246 annually before tax from the European Parliament budget. The budget, €1.7 billion in 2014, is paid for by member states’ contributions, which in turn come from the public purse at the national level.
The five parties have 38 MEPs. As it stands, they will draw a total of about €18.32 million in salaries over the five years.
Combined with the maximum potential grant, that is €40.32 million over the life of the next parliament, not including expenses, eventual severance payments and pensions.
Individual MEPs can claim €51,588 a year, the “General Expenditure Allowance.” If they were to claim the maximum, as would be expected, the 38 MEPs could cost the public purse €9.8 million over five years.
This could lead to a final bill of about €50.3 million for the term, not including the generous taxpayer-funded pension worth up to €68,800 that all MEPs are entitled to. Even if the MEPs only serve a single term, they are also given a severance payout of almost € 40,000, based on this year’s payment to outgoing MEPs.
There is an existing far right pan-European political party, The European Alliance for Freedom (EAF) and its affiliated think tank. With members including the Front National, it has received European Parliament money in the past. In 2012, the party received €357,089 and its foundation €234,133 but this would be dwarfed by the payments a parliamentary group could expect.
European Parliament rules for parliamentary group and party funding do not prevent money being awarded to far-right groups. The funding can cover up to 85% of the eligible expenditure of a pan-European political party, while the rest should be covered by resources such as membership fees and donations.
The grant cannot be used to pay for campaign costs for referendums and elections, other than European elections, direct or indirect funding of national parties or candidates, or for meeting debts or interest payments.
Apart from demanding that a party has at least 25 MEPs from at least seven different member states, groups “must observe the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.”
Pressure is likely to increase on lawmakers to change the rules, or find a way of enforcing the rule, if the parties breach this condition. Such a move would be unprecedented, but NGOs are already calling for additional scrutiny.
Pan-European political parties will be subject to stricter funding rules from 2018 (here), but that does not include parliamentary groups. The European Parliament would not comment on any parliamentary group that had not yet been formed.
An additional advantage of a parliamentary group would be the parties could appoint their own secretariat staffed with their own people, instead of relying on the European Parliament’s in-house office for non-affiliated parties.
The group would also receive an allocation of points, which it could use to select MEPs to appoint to influential positions within European Parliament committees.
Vlaams Belang’s Annemans said, “It’s […] about functioning in the European Parliament, about getting speaking time, being able to put in amendment. I don’t look forward to back benching for five years. That is not what parliamentary work is about.”
Michaël Privot, of the European Network Against Racism, said, “What if a far-right MEP was to chair the civil liberties committee, in charge of fundamental rights issues? This could prevent, or at least considerably delay, the adoption of progressive policies and laws.
“Our research shows that far-right candidates regularly used hate speech during the EU election campaign. Political groups which include MEPs who incite hatred in their discourses cannot be allowed to become a legitimate political voice supported by taxpayers’ money.
“We further call on the EP authorities to look not only at the European platform of these parties to check if they would be ‘fundamental rights-compliant’, but to check the reality on the ground and the discourses of the parties and their representatives.”
Will the group be formed?
There is a growing belief that the far right parties will struggle to make up the number of represented member states required, especially as Le Pen has ruled out any alliance with Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik. Other parties, such as the UK Independence Party, have totally ruled out any co-operation with the National Front-dominated bloc (here and here).
While independent MEPs could be persuaded to join to make up the numbers, they would risk severe criticism for propping up the eurosceptic, anti-immigration bloc.
But sources within the far-right bloc were more optimistic about their chances of hitting the jackpot.
One said, “We hope to get more than seven member parties. This would reduce the pressure, for instance, if one party leaves. We’re soliciting the same MEPs or parties as the Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) and even the European Conservatives and Reformists group.”
“We’re doing this day after day and hope to conclude it as soon as possible, but I won’t speculate on timing. We’re speaking to a number of parties, and a lot of them keep their options open at the moment.”
“Golden Dawn or Jobbik are out of the question. We don’t want to be associated with anti-Semitism, for instance, and don’t want to get caught up in discussions over the Second World War or the Holocaust […]. There is unanimity between the five parties on this aspect.”
Graeme Atkinson, of British campaign group Hope Not Hate, is a British campaign group said, “We obviously hope that the far right is unsuccessful in creating a taxpayer-funded group in the European Parliament, a group that would give a platform for spreading divisive and extreme ideas and policies.”
— Open Europe (@OpenEurope) May 28, 2014
Eurosceptic parties around Europe have shown their willingness to act on a European level.
The controversial Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders and leader of the extreme-right Front national in France, Marine Le Pen, have led the initiative to form a new group in the European Parliament, together with like-minded parties.
- 1-3 July: First plenary session of the newly constituted European Parliament