Members of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement (M5S) voted overwhelmingly to leave their alliance in European Parliament with the UK Independence Party (UKIP); however, after some dithering by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) party, they found themselves with nowhere to go.
M5S and UKIP joined together to form the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy party (EFDD) in June 2014, after both parties won substantial votes in the EU elections that May. Then UKIP leader Nigel Farage said at the time that the two eurosceptic parties shared a wish “for the citizens of Europe to have more of a say and that any further moves towards the centralisation of powers should only be legitimised by free and fair referenda.”
The group now holds 42 seats out of the 751 available in Parliament, giving the parties’ MEPs more power to support or block legislation and greater access to funding than they would separately.
In early January however, in an online poll of M5S’s members, 80% of members agreed to join ALDE, following the opinion of their leader Beppe Grillo, who thought that UKIP had achieved its political goal when the UK voted to leave the EU.
Grillo also said he had approached the Greens about a possible alliance, but was rejected; ALDE was the only group willing to discuss a joining of forces, attracted by the chance to increase their party numbers and once again become the third largest in Parliament.
After some deliberation however, ALDE, led by Guy Verhofstadt, who believes in deeper EU integration, rejected M5S saying that “there remain fundamental differences on key European issues” between the two parties.
The move came to the delight to Farage who had scorned Grillo’s attempts to leave and join the “Euro-fanatic establishment”.
M5S’s MEPs therefore remain part of the EFDD, having made no formal application to leave.
The debacle, however, has started to expose the internal contradictions of the group; two M5S MEPs have left the group, one joining the Greens, another the Europe of Nations and Freedom, the extreme right group of Marine le Pen. If more will follow, UKIP’s influence in Parliament and funding will be reduced.