Five Stars fakes a future EP group at a press conference

Leaders of 5 parties from Italy, Poland, Croatia, Finland and Greece met in Rome to sign an electoral manifesto. The block has been in discussions for weeks. Initially 4 parties, today they are 5. M5S is likely to be one of the largest national delegations in the next European Parliament. Today it needs allies. The four allies of Luigi di Maio are Zivi Zid from Croatia, Liike Nyt from Finland, Akkel of Greece and the Polish party Kukiz’15.

The event starts with a little stumble. There are only five partners in Rome in a Union of 27. More partners shall come with time. After all, new groups are formed after the elections. At the press conference there is a minor sound problem.

Luigi di Maio

With a small delay Luigi di Maio delivers his message: this is not a far-right group. This is not a mainstream group either. We live in a post-ideological world. Di Maio: “We do not believe in the division into left and right. We believe in projects that we propose that will improve the quality of life of European citizens”. This is a group of parties who want to keep Europe, but they equally want to change it. Di Maio for months has been talking about Europa diversa, a different Europe. The Europe of banks is not a Europe of people di Maio and co. want.

One of the driving ideas of the new movement is direct democracy. On the action plan to change Europe are also other issues that define the cooperation: an honest Europe, new future, respect for national identities, anti-corruption, reform of the EU institutions, better quality of life, protection of health and environment. On immigration, there is talk about more “solidarity and protection”.

Ivan Sinčić

M5S is very popular in Italy. Not only Luigi di Maio is the country’s deputy prime minister, the party is polling at about 28%. It is a bit of a struggle to find partners of similar popularity in other member states. Still, the second to speak is Ivan Sinčić, MP from Croatia, leader of the Zivi Zid party, or Human Shield. Zivi Zid became popular with their anti-eviction stand. Today they poll at about 16%, which should translate into 1 or 2 MEPs from among the 11 Croat mandates. Sinčić condemns the political corruption, which continues to be a major problem in many South Eastern European countries.

Paweł Kukiz

The next to speak is Poland’s Paweł Kukiz. Once a popular singer he entered the political stage in 2015 with an anti-system message of reclaiming the democracy. In Rome Kukiz called: “Let us reject this Brussels aristocracy and build a new Union. Let’s build a Europe of equal opportunities”. Kukiz’15 is currently polling at about 5%, which is also a national threshold. Hence there is a real chance that Kukiz’15 could end with no MEPs. However, should the party increase its support by a few percentage points that could provide up to 5 MEPs.

Paweł Kukiz accused the EU of being ruled by a two countries, a Franco-German diktat and expressed a wish that Europe should not turn into a kolkhoz: “Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things haven’t changed much in terms of citizens’ rights and power management” and continued of the new group’s aspirations “let’s build a new Europe. Europe of liberty. Europe of nations. Not a Europe of bureaucrats and corruption”.

Europe! Wake up!Paweł Kukiz in Rome, 15 Feb 2018

Karoliina Kähönen of a new Finnish political movement Liike Nyt had a short presentation and was gone from the stage before I could snap a photo of her. Unfortunately for the new European movement the Finnish partners seem to be political ghosts. Yes, the movement has been created in 2018 and there are two MPs in Helsinki and a number of city councillors. Yet as Finland is ahead of its parliamentary elections (14 April) and then the EP elections it seems awkward the Finnish pollsters are not even recording any Liike Nyt support!

According to the Finnish press, Ms Kähönen short presentation was linked with the fact that Di Maio got it wrong: Liike Nyt is not a partisan of the new initiative, but is “exploring its opportunities” in Europe. Kähönen said Liike Nyt did not sign anything and is not committed to anything, because it is unsure if it competes in the European elections in the first place…

Evangelos Tsiobanidis­

Evangelos ‘Vakis’ Tsiobanidis (Βάκης Τσιομπανίδης)­ is leading the Greek agrarian party AKKEL (Α.Κ.Κ.Ε.Λ). He spoke about the Greek sovereignty and agricultural independence. The party is against GMOs and against the Tsipras government in Athens. Tsiobanidis­: “Greece is a nation occupied like during the WWII” then by Nazis and today by “forces who care only about the externals’ interests” like NATO and the EU.

As this stage it is impossible to foresee what will happen in the Greek EU elections. In 2014 the results were the most volatile possible: all Greek MEPs were replaced by new members. The 2019 opinion polls suggest that the political scene has stabilised and is more predictable than five years ago. Today it is dominated by the EPP’s New Democracy (ND) and GUE/NGL’s Syriza. Other popular parties include Social-Democrats and Communists. There is not much information about the AKKEL campaign at this stage – unless AKKEL decides to run in a larger coalition (five years ago it received about 0.60%).

After one hour of EU bashing Luigi di Maio takes the floor for the second time. The message this time: we are pro-European! The group supports strengthening of the mandate of the European Parliament in EU affairs.

Et alors?

I don’t know if I am more upset with the fake news of Luigi di Maio or with the international press covering the staged “launch” event. I double checked each of the parties background and what comes out? There is one big party, M5S and one party which has a good shot at electing MEPs – Zivi Zid. Kukiz’15 is a major national party, but at this time in the political cycle it is rather on the downfall. The other two partners are a political plankton in their own member states. So what did the 100+ journalists gathered in Rome got, expected or reported on? A staged future EP group exercise! The message that so many outlets bought, including Politico and Euractiv Poland and many Italian sources, too – writing about the need for 25 MEPs and 7 member states to form a group when di Maio is effectively where he was a year ago – alone in Europe.

I can understand new actors on the European scene like Zivi Zid or Kukiz’15 because their strategies is the same as the tiny parties in Finland and Greece: internationalisation of their own presence, the stardom of Luigi di Maio, the deputy prime minister of the great and powerful country of Italy! (don’t think for a second that the stardom in European politics is limited to Macron – good looks and power often come together, for better or worse). By coming to Rome they send a message back home: “we matter, we have been noticed”. In this group only Finns are a little bit more cautious – not signing anything before they see with whom they actually cooperate. Still, the party has not decided if they are going to run in the elections in the first place… Clearly this is a joke Luigi has played on everyone else. I am surprised no one checked the Finns except for the Finns themselves.

The real European campaign di Maio does is elsewhere. His visit in France meeting they Yellow Vests and driving to Strasbourg criticising double seating of the European Parliament – that’s the campaign and that’s negotiations with a real partner – alongside the Zivi Zid, of course.

Last, but not the least important, is the group’s main the message. In the elections to the European Parliament the group asks the voters in a variety of countries to vote for them, because it supports direct democracy. What exactly does it mean in the EP context? Does the group want an EU-wide referenda on issues or a direct election of the College of Commissioners or an EU President? To strengthen the European Citizens Initiatives or more consultations of EU laws? To engage the EU citizens with technology? How about an e-vote in Europe? No, no, no. It supports widening powers of the EP – the representative democracy, not the direct democracy. If the group truly was credible about the European direct democracy there’d be more ideas in line of this book or at least this Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs’ article first. Instead Luigi and co. talk about a national direct democracy – they seem to believe the only democracy possible is at the national level.

(article by Piotr Maciej Kaczynski for 2019 European Elections in Poland)

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