As readers may be aware, most domestic political parties are part of a larger group within the European Parliament. My party, for example, is in the Socialist and Democrat group. As the leader of a group you gain considerable “air time” in the chamber, sitting at in the front row and speaking on behalf of your group, a position Farage is so desperate to keep.
Had Nigel Farage aligned himself with Marine Le Pen’s notorious Front National, not only would such an alliance with a known far-right group have had serious consequences for UKIP in the UK, but importantly for Farage he wouldn’t enjoy the status of a group leader because Le Pen would almost certainly have won the vote to lead the group she is part of.
So, Farage was forced to set up a group that he could lead. In order to get his group going he needed to get at least 25 MEPs on board representing seven or more different countries. To begin with it looked like he wasn’t going to get enough support, therefore scuppering his plans – however he has managed to secure 48 MEPs and has launched the new Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD).
In the past Farage has made an attempt to appear principled about not accepting membership from those who have previously been members of the National Front or BNP, and suggested this was a reason not to align with Le Pen. However, he has invited a group founded by white supremacists, the Swedish Democrats, into his bloc. Not only is it hugely hypocritical but it also shows the lengths to which Farage is prepared to go in order to ensure he gets to lead a group within the European Parliament.
In an attempt to allay fears, he made MEPs from the Swedish Democrats sign a letter denouncing their white supremacist leanings, but it’s very hard to see past the fact that the party was formed in the 1980s upon these obnoxious views and its members wore Nazi uniforms.
And there’s another issue: as the leader of a group, not only does he get to speak during plenary, and incidentally use his platform to insult almost everyone who comes into contact with him, but the EFD will also receive funding from the European Parliament in order to run itself as a political group. It is well-known that UKIP MEPs hardly participate in the work of the European Parliament or its committees, giving rise to suspicions that a considerable proportion of the EFD allocation may be used to build up UKIP’s presence in other ways.
Farage has said of his new group, the EFD, that: “We’ve got to find a group of people that we think are part of our political family with views that are consistent with classical liberal democracy.”
He added he was “very proud” to have formed a group that would “undertake to be the peoples’ voice”. Translated, it means he’s relieved to have formed a group which will undertake to represent his views and allow him to continue his one man media show.