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Still a devastating blow for UKIP?

The short-term disbandment of UKIP’s European Parliament group (entitled Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy – EFDD) is still a real problem for Nigel Farage and his twenty-three fellow UKIP MEPs and especially for UKIP as a party, writes chief political correspondent Tim McNamara. 

It underlines the fragility of the EFDD group and poses a real question mark over its long-term future.

The fact that the group has to rely on a MEP’s from a far-right Polish party speaks eloquently to its parlous position. Even the French Front National had refused to negotiate with the Congress of New Right because of its far-right views.

It could have meant the loss of most of its support staff in Brussels and also staff posts in the European Parliament’s office in London. It also could have lost extra speaking time in the Parliament and loses places on the parliament’s committees.

Thursday’s (16/10/14) announcement came as a complete surprise to many in Brussels. The resignation of Latvian MEP, Iveta Grigule meant that the group no longer passed the 25/25 rule. Each political group must have at least 25 members from 25% of the member states (at least 7 from 28). The EFDD subsequently had MEPs from six member States.

It appears that Grigule was uncomfortable in the group because of its pro-Putin sympathies. This was not welcomed in Latvia as it is extremely sensitive to any hint of Russian expansionism. There are rumours also that Grigule would be made head of the Parliament’s delegation to Kazakstan if she left the EFDD.

However it is difficult to imagine that a Polish nationalist party would be any more comfortable with pro-Putin statements by the group.

What is worse for UKIP is that French Front National leader, Marie Le Pen is desperately trying to form a right-wing group and only needs a couple of defections from the EFDD to bring this about. MEPs like being courted, they like being in positions of influence. If UKIP and the EFDD can’t promise influence, then an offer from Le Pen might be very tempting.

Italy’s 5-star movement has seventeen MEPs as part of the EFDD, it is highly unlikely that the seventeen, as a group and individually, will be content with the situation. It is a real possibility that the bloc will try to join another group so as to retain position and influence in the Parliament.

More importantly, from UKIP’s point of view, they could have lost access to about 1.3 million euros (+/- 1 million UK pounds) per annum of funding. They would also have lost salaries paid to UKIP support staff who would have been made redundant. This could have been a devastating blow for them as a large part of this funding was channeled (legitimately) to political campaigning in the UK.

Farage and his party would also have budgeted such funds for their campaigns in the lead-up to the UK general election. A one million pound yearly hole in the electoral coffers would have caused many in UKIP sleepless nights.

It appears that the In a fit of pique Farage attacked the President of the European parliament: “If we are correct in our understanding about the events, Schulz would be more suited to being the president of a parliament in a banana republic. It would seem he has exceeded his role that should apply to a neutral chairman or president of a parliament. I believe this is an example of political bias on an extraordinary scale.

With most of UKIP’s MEPs being newly elected and many of those politically inexperienced, the potential loss of support staff was especially significant. Even those MEPs who were elected in the last parliament would have found it much more difficult to work as a coherent party.

At present, UKIP’s MEPs are supposed to pay 10% of their net parliamentary salary into the party funds. This represents an amount well in excess of 150,000 euros (125,000 UK pounds). The levy might have to be increased to 20% if there is a shortfall in party funding.
Parliament works through political groups, if an MEP or MEPs are no longer in a group then they become far less influential. The European Parliament conducts most of its work through committees covering the same policy areas as the European Commission is responsible for managing. If UKIP’s group collapses, it’s MEPs are likely to lose their committee positions.

In what now looks like being a hostage to fortune Farage claimed in June that “We have struggled against much political opposition to form this group and I am sure it will operate very well. Now it is formed I expect other delegations to join soon”.

Last May, in an article for policyreview.eu the fragility of UKIP’s position in the European parliament was pointed out. Nothing seems to have changed.

 

 

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