The old eurosceptic Independence/Democracy group in the European Parliament was kept more or less respectable largely thanks to the influence of its former joint leader Jens-Peter Bonde, who stemmed from the relatively moderate lefty side of euroscepticism. Now, however, Bonde has retired and his old June Movement was wiped out at the European elections – along with its Polish equivalent – and the Ind/Dem group died with them.
But now, from the ashes, UKIP leader Nigel Farage (the former joint leader of Ind/Dem) has managed to salvage an alliance – with 30 MEPs from 8 countries (where the EP requires 25 MEPs from 7 countries for an official group to qualify for funding and committee places). But where the old Ind/Dem group was confined largely to criticising the EU and calling for repatriation of powers to the member states by the restraining influence of the left-wing anti-EU parties, this new group appears to be taking a decidedly more hardline nationalist approach, characterised primarily by strongly anti-immigration rhetoric.
UKIP dominates the new group with 13 MEPs, and for this we should be grateful – because they seem to be one of the most moderate parties in the thing.
Their major partners are Italy’s Lega Nord, with 9 representatives. What do these chaps – part of Berlusconi’s broad church right-wing governing coalition – believe? Well, let’s ask Wikipedia…
The party is often described as “xenophobic” and “anti-immigrant”. [Leader] Umberto Bossi himself, described African immigrants as Bingo-bongos, in an interview suggested opening fire on the boats of illegal immigrants who would disembark in Italy.
In 2002 Erminio Boso, a Lega Nord politician from the Province of Trento, proposed a separate train for immigrants and Italians. In 2003 he former Mayor of Treviso, Giancarlo Gentilini, while in office, spoke about those he called “immigrant slackers”, saying, “We should dress them up like hares and bang-bang-bang”.
Add to that the call by one of the party’s deputy mayors for “an ethnic cleansing of faggots”, and I’m sure you’ll agree that UKIP have chosen some regular charmers. But it doesn’t end there…
There’s also a couple of MEPs from the anti-immigration Dansk Folkeparti, whose leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, lost a 2003 libel action against a political opponent who accused the party of having “racist policies” – making the DPP an officially racist organisation. DPP politicians have also come under fire for comparing the Qu-ran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf (evidently unaware of Godwin’s Law), while others are on record as saying “In many ways, we are anti-Muslims”.
Slightly less mad is the MEP from the Dutch Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij – they just want the Netherlands to be reformed along strict Calvinist lines, with all laws to be derived from the Bible.
There’s also a couple of True Finns (Perussuomalaiset), who have also been involved with the Tories’ new centre-right eurosceptic grouping, one of whose party members is currently facing two years in jail on race hate charges for describing all foreigners as “criminals”, and asylum-seekers as “gang-rapists” and “parasites”.
Then there’s a couple of MEPs from the delightful Greek Laïkós Orthódoxos Synagermós – former members of Ind/Dem who have been repeatedly accused of anti-semitism (including their founder/leader, who is alleged to have called for a debate on “the Auschwitz and Dachau myth”, claimed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are a reality, and blamed “the Jews” for the September 11th 2001 attacks.
The new group has already been described as being “far-right lite” – with UKIP accused of hoping to tone down some of the more overtly racist/fascist rhetoric of their new partners and repackaging the strongly anti-immigration stance that is the new group’s one binding ideology into a more friendly, populist package.
But will it last? The last racist group in the European Parliament, the short-lived Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty soon fell apart when its members all realised that the other members were, well, filthy foreigners. Could the same happen to UKIP’s new group? And is UKIP – a party that has striven hard in the last few years to shake off its past image as being xenophobic and anti-foreigner – really going to be prepared to be associated with parties with such unpleasant associations?
Yet here’s some confusion… While UKIP refuse to back the Conservative party in the UK thanks to the Tories being centre-right eurosceptics but – crucially – not withdrawalist like UKIP, they seem quite happy to do business with all these parties in their new group in the European Parliament – none of whom, bar UKIP themselves, advocate withdrawing from the EU.
So what is it that makes UKIP think that they have more in common with these European parties than they do with the Tories in the UK? Because the only thing I can see that ties these parties together beyond the standard centre-right euroscepticism that would see them as good fits for the Tories own new group is precisely the hardline, frequently (allegedly) racist approach to immigration.