The European Parliament's hand-out to the far-right

The decision to award money to anti-semitic parties shows where the EU is going wrong.

The fight against anti-semitism has just got a whole lot more difficult. The Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals in the European Parliament have just decided to extend a massive subsidy to promote political anti-semitism. €289,266 of taxpayers' money will now be given to openly anti-Jewish parties like Hungary's Jobbik, whose MEPs tried to take their seats in Strasbourg wearing the uniform of the anti-Jewish Hungarian Guard. Krisztina Moravi headed the Jobbik list in the last European Parliament elections and declared she "would be glad if the so-called Hungarian Jews went back to playing with their tiny circumcised dicks instead of vilifying me."

Another beneficiary is the British National Party, whose leader and senior MEP, Nick Griffin, has denied the holocaust and whose only lengthy publication, Who are the Mindbenders?, accused Jewish journalists of forming a secret lobby to control the media. Griffin has moved on to plough the more politically profitable furrows of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant xenophobia but across the European far-right the threnody of a disappeared national identity lost of Jewish influence remains strong.

Predictably, le grandpère of anti-semitic parliamentary politics, Jean Marie Le Pen, who is still an MEP at the age of 83 after decades of anti-Jewish sneers, will also benefit from the handout. The European Parliament grant has been given to the European Alliance of National Movements, (EANM) a grouping of 13 far-right parties. Only three of them have MEPs - eight in total from Britain's BNP, France's Front National, and Hungary's Jobbik.

The grant is to the EANM, even though European Parliament rules stipulate that any political group in Strasbourg should have at least 25 members and have MEPs from at least seven member states. The hurdle is not that high and Britain's Conservatives were able to forge their own alliance with fellow Eurosceptic parties after the 2009 Strasbourg election. But under no interpretation of the European Parliament's rules is there any justification for giving thousands of Euros to extremist anti-democratic parties that do not even have the support to win the odd seat in the Strasbourg assembly under its lax proportional representation electoral system.

Instead this is a fix within a fix. Once elected, MEPs operate an Ottoman system of divvying up the spoils of office between themselves. In the closed corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg, the leaders of the Socialists, Conservatives, Liberal-Democrats, Greens, Communists and Christian Democrats decide who will be president of the European Parliament and who will chair all the key committees. The votes are pure formalities as the deals are decided by a handful of top MEPs without any reference to their colleagues, to their parties, still less to voters.

It is the depressingly undemocratic and unaccountable nature of the European Parliament that has led more and more pro-Europeans like Germany's former Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, France ex-president, Valéry Giscard D'Estaing and myself, to call for reform of the European Parliament so that is has some connection to European citizens.

The scandal of handing out cash to Europe's anti-semites and to parties without even an MEP to their name might encourage governments, who ultimately vote this money, to think harder about overdue reform of the European Parliament. Ever since David Cameron quit the mainstream centre-right grouping in the European Parliament to build links with Latvian defenders of the Waffen SS or the clericalist, nationalist Law and Justice Party in Poland, the Conservatives have had an unhappy relationship with the European Parliament. Their best-known MEP, Edward MacMillan Scott defected to the Liberal Democratic group in 2009 and last week, the Tories' best-known Midlands MEP, Roger Helmer, defected to UKIP.

But Labour and the Lib Dems are scarcely in better shape. UKIP and BNP MEPs outnumber Labour MEPs as the European Parliament allows the election of extreme or fringe candidates who have little real purchase in national politics in terms of parliamentary or local elections. The three decades of the European Parliament's existence has seen ever-decreasing participation in its elections. National parliaments feel utterly excluded from oversight of EU decision-making. The decision to award money to anti-semitic parties should be the occasion for a major re-think about the role and purpose of the European Parliament.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe Minister

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and was a minister at Foreign and Commonwealth Office
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.