Scrap Strasbourg seat, urges Italy’s Di Maio

Italy's vice premier Luigi Di Maio [L] and Alessandro Di Battista [R] officially launched Five Star Movement campaign in the run-up of the European elections with a on-the-road event to Strasbourg. [facebook]

Italy’s Five Star Movement has decried the “waste of money” of the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg, putting its abolition at the centre of the party’s campaign for the European elections in May.

Yesterday (14 January), Italy’s deputy prime minister and Five Star Movement leading figure Luigi Di Maio travelled from Italy to Strasbourg by minivan to kick off the party’s campaign for the European elections.

“Today we are starting on a long road leading up to 26 May [day for the elections], when we will bring some colour in this grey Europe,” said Di Maio in a video message shared on social media.

He called for the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament to be scrapped, saying it was “used about 40 days a year and costs €1 billion per parliamentary term to European taxpayers, Italians included.”

Di Maio travelled with Alessandro Di Battista, a former Italian MP highly influential on Five Star Movement’s voters, who took a break from politics almost one year ago but is expected to be a key campaigner for the party during the elections.

During the road trip, both Di Maio and Di Battista used Instagram stories to answer questions of party’s activists and followers.

Only a few journalists had been informed of Di Maio’s intention to have a quick Q&A outside the Parliament. However, he did not enter the Parliament, saying that he did not even know the agenda of the plenary.

Symbol of arrogance

“What you see is not only a waste of money but also a symbol of arrogance coming from those who waged war against us on the Italian budget,” said Di Maio pointing at the Parliament at his back.

As anticipated by in an interview with a Five Star Movement MEP, its manifesto will focus strongly on cutting political spending.

Five Star Movement unveils plan to form EU Parliament group

Promoting direct democracy and reducing overspending in politics are among the priorities that the new political group will promote in a manifesto to be published in the run-up to the 2019 European elections.

The savings should be allocated to programmes that benefit European citizens, the manifesto will say.

Di Maio also pointed the finger at France, which benefits economically from hosting the assembly, in an attempt to use the same anti-French rhetoric that its coalition partner Lega uses to get votes.

Although allies in Italy, Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s Lega will be competitors during the electoral campaign.

“Lega will join a group of political forces that are denying Italy the redistribution of migrants across Europe, a group where there are political forces that support austerity,” said Di Maio in Strasbourg

But other Italian MEPs were quick to criticise Di Maio’s road trip. The socialist Patrizia Toia described Di Maio as “a tourist in Strasbourg”, while the centre-right EPP deputy, Lara Comi, said that MEPs have been campaigning to scrap the Strasbourg seat for years.

Alliance before elections

“I believe there are the numbers to build a European parliamentary group neither right nor left,” Di Maio said.

He confirmed as well that he will talk with the ‘yellow vest’ activists who have been campaigning in France in the coming weeks: “It’s up to them to decide if get into politics. If they start, they don’t go back, but they’re already at a good point in their battle.”

The Five Star Movement has already convinced Poland’s right-wing Kukiz’15, Croatia’s populist Zivi Zid and Finland’s liberal Liike Nyt to join a political group which it plans to form in the European Parliament after the May elections.

There appears to be no chance of the Five Star Movement’s MEPs joining a “traditional” political family. An spokesperson for the liberal ALDE group confirmed to EURACTIV that “no common plans” are put in place with  the Five Star Movement, while a Greens spokesperson confirmed that they won’t talk with them since they are in government with Salvini’s far-right Lega.

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