EU liberals refuse to join up with Italy’s eurosceptic Five Star Movement
The leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement Beppe Grillo made a failed move to join forces with a pro-European Union (EU) group on Monday – a decision that has left many scratching their heads as to what the anti-establishment party’s position really is on Europe.
Party members were asked to vote in an online poll as to whether they wanted to leave the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD). Grillo, who claimed that “recent events in Europe, such as Brexit, have led us to reconsider the nature of the EFDD group,” proposed instead to join the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
The proposal to switch sides came as a surprise since the ALDE is a pro-EU group led by federalist Guy Verhofstadt. The move would have strengthened Verhofstadt’s bid for the presidency of the European Parliament – elections are due to be held on 17 Jan. Despite 78% of Five Star members voting to join the ALDE, Grillo and Verhofstadt were left red-faced after senior liberal MEP’s within the group rejected the merger, citing concerns about Five Star’s position on several European issues.
Vincenzo Scarpetta, Senior Policy Analyst at Open Europe, told Vice NEWS that the snub had been “embarrassing” for Mr Grillo. He added: “Tactically the move would have made sense. The Five Star Movement have 17 MEPs. If they had joined ALDE they would have been in the third largest group in European Parliament.”
“This would have given the Five Star Movement more power, funding and visibility. Politically, however, the move didn’t make sense. The Five Star Movement are anti-establishment and against the Euro.”
The missed deal saw the Five Star Movement immediately re-join the EFDD – but only after Mr Grillo spoke to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage on Skype. Mr Grillo said in a statement: “We have renewed the agreement [with UKIP]. The failed attempt to join ALDE means that we respect the second result in the online poll: to stay with the EFDD.”
The chaotic 48 hours left many wondering what side of the fence the Five Star Movement sits on when it comes to Europe. In an attempt to clarify its position, the party released a statement on Grillo’s website Tuesday: “‘In Europe for Italy’ was our slogan for the 2014 European Parliament elections, our programme doesn’t change and it wouldn’t have changed if we had entered another group.”
After such confusion over the attempted move, Grillo attempted to further clarify his party’s position on Europe:
- The Euro The Five Star Movement says it doesn’t want to leave the European Union. Instead, it says it wants a referendum on the Euro, asking Italians whether or not they want to stay or leave the Eurozone: “The Euro has proved time and time again … to be a system through which the establishment keeps in check democracy.”
- Immigration The party says the Dublin Regulation, which states that asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, must be changed. They want member states to share the burden. The only way to tackle the migrant crisis, they say, is to back an arms embargo, to stop the bombing campaigns in Syria and Libya and to impose sanctions on multinational companies who exploit human rights in third world countries.
- The economy Having fought against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Five Star are also opposed to the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union and any trade deals with China.
- The environment They argue that the European Commission and European Parliament are slaves to the oil giants. They back a promotion of a green economy and are against Genetically Modified Crops and dangerous pesticides. They argue investment in new technologies is needed to get young people back into work.
- Russia Five Star are against economic sanctions imposed on Russia, and some leaders in the party have faced criticism for supporting their actions in Syria. Grillo insists: “Russia is an economic partner and an ally in our fight against terrorism. They are not our enemies.”
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS