After the failure of Beppe Grillo’s rapprochement with the Liberals in Brussels, one 5 Star MEP has joined the Greens and another the extreme-right ENL group. But other defectors been discouraged by Grillo’s harsh retaliation measures. EURACTIV France reports.
The mooted exodus of 5 Star Movement (M5S) MEPs to the European Parliament’s Green group never materialised. Of the 17 Italian MEPs belonging to Grillo’s party, just one has crossed the floor to the Greens.
Marco Affronte joined the ranks of the pro-European Greens/EFA group yesterday (11 January), boosting their number to 51.
But in quitting the Eurosceptic EFDD group, dominated by UKIP, the MEP provoked the anger of his party leader.
Controversial former comedian Grillo responded by calling for Affonte’s resignation, or for the MEP to pay a €250,000 fine for breach of the contract he had signed with his party.
“For now one M5S member has joined us,” said a source close to the Greens. “The MEPs came under extreme pressure and financial blackmail from Beppe Grillo.”
As a result, the three other Italian MEPs that had approached the left-wing group have for the moment abandoned the idea. “There has been a certain amount of backpedaling after Grillo’s message,” the source added.
The question of integrating the Italian MEPs into the Greens/EFA group was first raised after the 2014 elections. But discussions never really got off the ground and Grillo opted instead to get into bed with UKIP.
Many Greens had also expressed strong reservations about teaming up with members of this political family.
“Since 2014 we had regretted closing the door on the possibility of a collaboration with the M5S MEPs so quickly,” said the source close to the Greens.
In spite of his promise of retaliation, Grillo yesterday lost a second MEP. Marco Zanni joined the extreme-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group dominated by Le Pen’s National Front.
This move in the opposite political direction brings Zanni closer to his compatriots in the Northern League, who have sat with Le Pen’s group since 2014.
The departure of two MEPs to groups at opposite ends of the political spectrum followed Grillo’s attempts to change political family mid-mandate.
The Italian comedian had launched an online consultation asking the party’s members if they wanted to leave the Eurosceptic EFDD group to join the liberal federalists of ALDE.
78.5% of members voted in favour of the proposal. But the M5S MEPs themselves were not really consulted on the matter before talks were held, and the move was not to everyone’s taste.
“I get the feeling that many decisions are made in Rome rather than here within the 5 Star Movement,” said French Green MEP Pascal Durand.
And Grillo’s attempt to join the political mainstream came as something of a surprise to many. The M5S, which took 25% of the vote in Italy’s recent general election, stands for a completely different set of ideals to those defended by the European liberals.
Points of conflict include their demands for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the eurozone, their sometimes very harsh criticism of immigration and an ‘anti-establishment’ line that often borders on populism.
And the party’s weak identification with liberal values can be seen in the voting records of its 17 MEPs. According to VoteWatch, M5S and ALDE lawmakers cast just 50.3% of their votes the same way.
The Italian party had a much closer affinity with the Greens, sharing 72.9% of votes.
“For me, the M5S is not a ‘pariah movement’ and this position is shared by the majority of [this] group. On environmental, social and democratic questions, there is a very strong convergence with the Greens,” said Durand.
In fact, the Italian party has strong green credentials at the domestic level. It recently proposed the ambitious objectives of completely ending Italy’s reliance on oil by 2040 and generating 100% renewable energy by 2050.