The Five Star Movement’s attempt to create a European Parliament group

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

(L-R) Karolina Kahonen (Finland), Pawel Kukiz (Poland), Luigi Di Maio (Italy), Ivan Vilibor Sincic (Croatia) and Evangelos Tsiobanidis (Greece), during the presentation of the leaders of the new group ahead of the European elections, in Rome, Italy, 15 February 2019. [Alessandro Di Meo/EPA/EFE]

Leaders of 5 parties from Italy, Poland, Croatia, Finland and Greece met in Rome last week to sign an electoral manifesto. Piotr Kaczyński has followed the event and offers his impressions and comments.

Piotr Kaczyński, formerly a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels in 2007-2012, runs a blog called 2019EUelectionsPoland.com.

The bloc has been in discussion for weeks. The Five Star Movement (M5S) is likely to be one of the largest national delegations in the next European Parliament. Today it needs allies. A minimum of 25 MEPs from 7 member states are needed to form a political group in the EU assembly. So far the four allies of Luigi di Maio are Zivi Zid from Croatia, Liike Nyt from Finland, Akkel of Greece and the Polish party Kukiz’15.

With a small delay, Luigi di Maio delivered his message: this is not a far-right group. This is not a mainstream group either. We live in a post-ideological world.

Di Maio: “We do not believe in the division into left and right. We believe in projects that we propose that will improve the quality of life of European citizens”. This is a group of parties who want to keep Europe, but they equally want to change it. Di Maio for months has been talking about Europa diversa, a different Europe. The Europe of banks is not a Europe of people di Maio and co. want.

One of the driving ideas of the new movement is direct democracy. On the action plan to change Europe are also other issues that define the cooperation: an honest Europe, new future, respect for national identities, anti-corruption, reform of the EU institutions, better quality of life, protection of health and environment. On immigration, there is talk about more “solidarity and protection”.

M5S is very popular in Italy. Not only Luigi di Maio is the country’s deputy prime minister, the party is polling at about 28%. It is a bit of a struggle to find partners of similar popularity in other member states. Still, the second to speak is Ivan Sinčić, an MP from Croatia, leader of the Zivi Zid party, or Human Shield. Zivi Zid became popular with their anti-eviction stand. Today they poll at around 16%, which should translate into 1 or 2 MEPs from the 11 Croat mandates. Sinčić condemns the political corruption, which continues to be a major problem in many South Eastern European countries.

The next to speak is Poland’s Paweł Kukiz. Once a popular singer he entered the political stage in 2015 with an anti-system message of reclaiming democracy. In Rome, Kukiz launched an appeal: “Let us reject this Brussels aristocracy and build a new Union. Let’s build a Europe of equal opportunities”. Kukiz’15 is currently polling at about 5% of voting intentions, which is also a national threshold. Hence there is a real chance that Kukiz’15 could end with no MEPs. However, should the party increase its support by a few percentage points that could provide up to 5 MEPs.

Paweł Kukiz accused the EU of being ruled by a Franco-German diktat and expressed a wish that Europe should not turn into a kolkhoz: “Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things haven’t changed much in terms of citizens’ rights and power management,” he claimed. He then gave details about the new group’s aspirations: “Let’s build a new Europe. A Europe of liberty. A Europe of nations. Not a Europe of bureaucrats and corruption”.

Karoliina Kähönen of the new Finnish political movement Liike Nyt had a short presentation and was gone from the stage before I could snap a photo of her. Unfortunately for the new European movement, the Finnish partners seem to be political ghosts. Yes, the movement has been created in 2018 and there are two MPs in Helsinki and a number of city councillors. Yet, as Finland is ahead of its parliamentary elections (14 April) and then the EP elections it seems awkward that Finnish pollsters are not recording any support for Liike Nyt!

According to the Finnish press, Ms Kähönen’s short presentation was linked with the fact that Di Maio got it wrong: Liike Nyt is not a partisan of the new initiative, but is “exploring its opportunities” in Europe. Kähönen said Liike Nyt did not sign anything and is not committed to anything, because it is unsure if it competes in the European elections in the first place…

Evangelos ‘Vakis’ Tsiobanidis is leading the Greek agrarian party AKKEL. He spoke about the Greek sovereignty and agricultural independence. The party is against GMOs and against the Tsipras government in Athens. Says Tsiobanidis: “Greece is a nation occupied like during the WWII” then by Nazis and today by “forces who care only about the externals’ interests” like NATO and the EU.

As this stage it is impossible to foresee what will happen in the Greek EU elections. In 2014 the results were the most volatile possible: all Greek MEPs were replaced by new members. The 2019 opinion polls suggest that the political scene has stabilised and is more predictable than five years ago. Today it is dominated by the EPP’s New Democracy (ND) and GUE/NGL’s Syriza. Other popular parties include Social-Democrats and Communists. There is not much information about the AKKEL campaign at this stage – unless AKKEL decides to run in a larger coalition (five years ago it received about 0.60%).

After one hour of EU bashing Luigi di Maio takes the floor for the second time. The message this time: we are pro-European! The group supports strengthening of the role of the European Parliament in EU affairs.

Et alors?

There is one big party, M5S, and one party which has a good shot at electing MEPs – Zivi Zid. Kukiz’15 is a major national party, but at this time in the political cycle it is rather on the downfall. The other two partners are a political plankton in their own member states.

The real European campaign di Maio does is elsewhere. His visit in France meeting the Yellow Vests and driving to Strasbourg to criticise the double seating of the European Parliament – that’s the campaign and that’s negotiations with a real partner – alongside the Zivi Zid, of course.

Last, but not the least important is the group’s main the message. In the European Parliament elections, the group tells voters in a variety of countries to vote for them because it supports direct democracy.

What exactly does it mean in the EP context? Does the group want EU-wide referenda on issues or a direct election of the College of Commissioners or an EU President? To strengthen the European Citizens Initiatives or more consultations of EU laws? To engage the EU citizens with technology? How about an e-vote in Europe?

No, no, no. Di Maio and co. talk about a national direct democracy – they seem to believe the only democracy possible is at the national level.

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