British MEPs’ problems with Latvians, again

| October 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

v2-Nigel-FarageOpinion by Dr Denis MacShane 

Latvian MEPs have always caused problems for British politics. The decision of Iveta Grigule to quit the group set up by Nigel Farage means it has had to dissolve itself, leaving UKIP MEPs floating around the European Parliament  like lost souls. They are without the chance of presiding committees, leading parliamentary delegations or being rapporteurs – all posts of influence and previously David Cameron suffered from negative publicity when it was found that a Latvian MEP in the Tory breakaway group from the EPP belonged to a party which was rather keen on commemorating Latvian collaborators in World War 2 who had helped in the Holocaust elimination of Latvian Jews.

To form a political group in the European Parliament at least 25 MEPs from seven countries are needed.  That is not a problem for the big political formations, the centre-right EPP, the centre left Socialists and Democrats, the Liberals, the Greens, the hard left and so forth.

But the arrival over the last decade of populist, identity, usually xenophobic MEPs has changed the political architecture. There are now 100 MEPs who are non-inscrits in the official European Parliament terminology. In addition to the Ukip MEPs, these include MEPs from Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Party, Swedish Democrats, Hungary’s Jobbik and Greece’s Golden Dawn as well as MEPs led by

France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. Le Pen and Wilder hoped to form a major Eurosceptic block with Nigel Farage in the European Parliament after the May elections. The British nationalist refused saying that “antisemitism was embedded” in the French Front National. This upset Mme Le Pen as it contradicted her policy of dédiabolisation – exorcising the anti-Jewish ideology that has always been present in the French hard right.  Unfortunately for Mme Le Pen last month her father – still the president of honour of the FN – made a joke about sending a Jewish singer, Patrick Bruel, to the ovens, a reminder of what lies underneath the electoral success of the FN and why Farage wants nothing to do with the French party.

Nigel Farage’s refusal to join with Marine Le Pen left her and other parties with similar Europhobe, anti-foreigner, anti-Islam ideology as Ukip without a political group in the European Parliament.  Now Farage’s balloon has emptied of air and it may be that some of the more extreme nationalists in his group will peel off to link with Le Pen and Wilders and thus allow the French extremist to increase prestige and status in the European Parliament.

Relying on the Latvian Iveta Girgule was always a risk for Farage. She seems to have had several political homes starting as a Latvian Green and then joining the Latvian Farmers’ Party. She won her seat as an MEP for the Latvian Farmers Party.  She opposed Latvia entering the Euro which gives some link to Farage style Euroscepticism.

Farage and his followers remain untouchable for other MEPs across the political spectrum in Strasbourg. The Ukip leader has only himself to blame. He indulges in schoolboy antics in the chamber and in debates and never turns up to serve on committees he is paid handsomely to work on. In 2009, he boasted on British television about claiming £2 million in expenses as an MEP –a  figure which dwarfed all the expense claiming of British MPs.

Farage comes under no scrutiny from a British media which share his Euroscepticism so this break-up of his group will get a passing mention, little more. Similarly David Cameron’s alliance with politicians ready to gloss over the Holocaust never caused him much bother.

The fissiparous and often farcical nature of populist, identity MEPs is mirrored by the endless expulsions and resignations from Farage’s Ukip party as it attracts flakey rent-a-quote individuals who can never settle to the discipline of adult party politics.

Farage is endlessly indulged by most UK journalists, notably the increasingly Eurosceptic BBC. He will survive this latest manifestation of how rickety his political edifice really is. But for those who place hopes in the European Parliament as an institution of prestige and democratic importance, this latest comedy is not encouraging.

Dr Denis MacShane is the UK’s former minister of Europe.

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Category: A Frontpage, Denis Macshane, EU, EU, European Parliament, Opinion, UKIP

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