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European Parliament, second attempt of banning ‘fake groups’

Nigel Farage, leader of the UKIP party (on the left) with Beppe Grillo, head of the Five Star Movement. Their political group EFDD is considered as a "fake" [personal archive]

The members of the European Parliament want to keep the EU institution safe from anti-European forces by avoiding that after the European elections groups like EFDD and ENF could be established. Political groups are not just about money and privileges, they have a common background, common values and, above all, a common agenda. MEPs are thus working on new internal rules to prevent fictitious unions being set up.

The committee for Constitutional Affairs approved an amendment of the rules of procedures for the EU institution. According to the proposal, before giving life to a new body elected MEPs must prove to have political affinity or it will not be possible to obtain the green light to such creation.

There is an impression that during the current legislature EFDD and ENF have been nothing but a union among people voting randomly. A first attempt to stop such a practice was made in January by the German member of the social-democrats (S&D), Jo Leinen, who put forward an amendment asking for clear political affinity. His proposal was rejected, but now the committee for Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) produced a new draft amendment.

The text will be voted in by the Plenary on the occasion of the next session, which will be also the last moment of institutional activity before the electoral campaign break. After Easter the European Parliament will not meet again, and all activities will resumed in July, after the European elections, with new MEPs.

“Should” and “shall”, wording matters

The AFCO committee decided to review the rule 32 of the internal regulation, the one related to “establishment and dissolution of political groups”. The specific rule expressly stated that “Parliament need not normally evaluate the political affinity of members of a group”. In forming a group together under this Rule, “the Members concerned accept by definition that they have political affinity”. Now this has to change, according to draft proposal. The new text states as follows:

“The political declaration of a group shall set out the values that the group stands for and the main political objectives which its members intend to pursue together in the framework of the exercise of their mandate. The declaration shall describe the common political orientation of the group in a substantial, distinctive and genuine way”.

During the debate MEPs reasoned on the opportunity to use “should” or “shall”. In the end the second option prevailed. What it could appear as a tiny difference in wording, is in reality a huge difference in practice. Legally speaking, “shall” means “must”.

Anti-sovereignist measure. Italy M5S and the League to be hit

The proposal is not new. Already in January a first attempt to update the internal regulation of the European Parliament was tabled. In that case it was about amendments, so legislative proposals. They arrived in the plenary and were rejected. The Five Stars Movement (M5S) was in the front-line to oppose the proposal. Fabio Massimo Castaldo, one of the vice presidents of the EU Parliament welcomed the vote.

The idea behind such a move was and still is about political coherence. Different MEPs shall work together instead. In practice this is an anti-sovereignist measure. There is the will to avoid political groups such as EFDD and ENF to be replicated. In these groups (where M5S and the League currently sit, respectively) anti-European forces work by voting without coordination, according to their own interest.

“The interpretation of the regulation of the European Parliament for the formation of the new groups will prevent the formation of European parliamentary groups of a fictitious nature” pointed out the vice president of the S&D group, Mercedes Bresso. Groups of a fictitious nature, or fake-groups, she stressed, are those groups formed by political forces “which come together only to access the funds of the European Parliament”. According to Bresso “this rule shows respect for the will of voters and is a step forward for greater transparency”.

The difference between the January proposal and the new proposal is in the procedure. The AFCO committee produced an interpretation of the current rules. Unlike the legislative proposals, interpretations don’t need to be voted, unless a minimum of 38 MEPs ask to hold a debate and a vote in plenary. It exactly what M5S is going to do. So the clash will take place during the next plenary session, in what will be the last meeting before the end of the activity of the European Parliament. Accordingly, the path for the next European Parliament will be paved next week.

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