European Parliament rules provide for the formation of “political groups” – essentially alliances between political parties from different Member States. Belonging to a political group brings a number of advantages, chiefly access to additional funding.

The incentive to form political groups leads to the creation of a number of alliances which might initially appear surprising. One example of this is the European Conservatives and Reformists group, an alliance of Eurosceptic parties. Many of its member parties are relatively minor parties, but the group also includes the UK Conservative Party as a founder member. (The Conservatives left the Parliament’s main centre-right grouping – the European People’s Party – in 2009, seeing the grouping as too Europhile.) Another example is the Greens/European Free Alliance, a somewhat unlikely alliance of Green parties and regional secessionist parties. Three UK parties belong to this grouping: the Green Party of England and Wales, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru.

A third example is the “Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy” (EFDD) group. The group’s members include Italy’s Five Star Movement and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). It could be argued that this alliance is the most surprising of all: the Five Star Movement, whilst firmly antiestablishment, is difficult to classify on any sort of conventional left-right spectrum. Formed in 2009 and led by the iconic comedian Beppe Grillo, the party owes much of its success (largely among the young) to online campaigning. In these respects one might argue it has little in common with UKIP.

The composition of EFDD has been the subject of much coverage in recent weeks, following the group’s decision to admit Robert Iwaszkiewicz – an MEP from Poland’s far-right Congress of the New Right. European Parliament requirements state that political groups must contain 25 MEPs from at least 7 Member States: on 16 October, following the decision of the Latvian Farmers’ Union to quit EFDD, the group’s existence was thrown into question as it no longer fulfilled these criteria. It was only the admission of Iwaskiewicz, on 20 October, which allowed the group to be ‘saved’.
Where does all this leave us? At first glance, the composition of many of the European Parliament’s political groups might appear to be somewhat surprising. The ECR, the Greens/EFA and the EFDD are all – to a greater or lesser extent – pragmatic alliances between parties which do not necessarily share common aims. Yet at the same time, the benefits of belonging to a political group create a powerful incentive for the formation of such alliances. In this context, it could be argued that the formation of such pragmatic alliances is hardly a surprise, whatever the ideological differences between the parties concerned.

Author: Rob Page