It all boils down to numbers: the arrival of five Romanian MEPs and one Bulgarian MEP provided the necessary quorum to create the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) party on January 15 2007. After the 1994 Euro-elections, the extremist stronghold led by Frenchman Jean Marie Le Pen had been restricted to a merely symbolic role in the chamber. They now have 20 MEPs from six different countries; the minimum requirement to form a political party. They should be viewed as just one amongst the many political formations, but it seems no-one is prepared to play with the bad kids in the playground.
Who's pulling the strings?
Although the incorporation of these two Eastern European countries into the EU has enabled the party to take shape, it would not be entirely fair to accuse Romania and Bulgaria of causing the European political balance to tip towards the right. In order to become an official party, the one Bulgarian MEP and five Romanian MEPs were all ITS-needed, of the 53 who have joined recently. The rest have spread themselves between the Party of European Socialists (18 MEPs); the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE, 16 MEPs) and the European People’s Party, (13 MEPs). The fact is that the hard core of the European right comes straight from the heart of the European Union: seven members belong to the French National Front.
Bruno Gollnisch, member of this French party, and currently facing charges in France of denying the Holocaust, is ITS’s new leader. Le Pen and his daughter Marine also figure amongst its members. Meanwhile the Austrian far-right has done its part by providing the ideologist of the group, Andreas Mölzer. The extreme-right Belgian party, Vlaams Belang (VB), has given ITS three members and next we have three Italian MEPS, one being the granddaughter of Il Duce, Alessandra Mussolini. Ashley Mote, the British independent expelled from UKIP, completes the picture.
Some brand it a marriage of convenience. In order to join forces in a single entity, it must be shown that an ideology and a common policy which goes further than national interests exists. In fact, many of those who are now part of ITS directly opposed the accession of Romania to the EU, fearing a tidal wave of migration. Frank Vanhecke, president of Vlaams Belang, has admitted that his party does not want to be held accountable for the decisions of others, but joining together was the only way to avoid being 'discriminated' against by the rest of the Europarliamentarians. Now they claim to share the desire to regain and maintain 'traditions' (especially the ideal of family based on Christian values), and the fight to defend their national identities and sovereignties.
Not convinced? How these ideas fit with the supranational and community spirit of the EU remains to be seen. Forget talk of the constitution that Angela Merkel is relaunching during Germany's EU presidency, and forget Turkey figuring in their concept of Europe.
ITS have already achieved political strength, which is a point in their favour. But what now? For a start, they will have the same rights as the rest of the parties in the Parliament - they can have the floor for the same length of time, increasing their visibility (maybe they are radical enough to make the EU more talked about - who knows?). They will also be able to make changes to documents and have civil servants at their disposal.
They will begin to fill their pockets, too: it is reckoned that ITS will receive around 30% more than they received before becoming a registered group, which means close to a million extra Euros. However, if we remind ourselves that these twenty MEPs represent a mere 2.5% of the current total of 785 MEPs, and that the other groups have decided to obstruct them whenever possible, we don’t need to worry that European politics could take a radical turn.
Come together, right now
ITS’s new Romanian MEPs belong to the Greater Romania Party (GRP) and are known for their anti-Semitism. However, they and the new Bulgarian MEPs have acceded to the European Parliament in a temporary proportional representation of their national parliaments. Both countries must call elections this very year so that the public may officially elect them.
Professor Francesc Veiga, an expert on Romania and Eastern Europe, says it is still too soon to tell if they will go for the nationalist vote: 'At the moment the Romanian people are convinced that they need Europe. They believe that it will help them. They will not vote for someone who will destroy the European spirit. Nevertheless, if they don’t get from Europe what they were hoping for, the disappointment could push them towards a more nationalist vote. They need to defend their interests more strongly in the cut and thrust of political wrangling in Brussels.'
ITS’s slogan, which represents more than 27 million voters in the EU, is 'patriots of the world unite.' Unite, indeed, but against whom?
Translated from Catalan to Spanish by Cristina Fernández Vidal
What the MEPs say
'I call all patriots, sovereignists and true republicans to support my candidacy in opposition to the technocratic Europe of Brussels. I want to create a true popular force to defend national independence and oppose globalisation'
Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Front and ITS member
'We have to fight them politically and ensure that other people don’t vote for them in the elections. The Greens are going to hold an attitude of absolute rejection to everything that they do in the Eurochamber'
Monica Frassoni, Italian president of the Greens
'Changing the prerequisites for forming a party so that the extreme right can’t exist seems like political hypocrisy to me. That would be changing the rules halfway through the game, and democrats don’t do that.'
Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, Spanish Popular Party MEP
'In my country there are tens of thousands of Gypsy girls way prettier than this honorable one. The best of them are very expensive – up to 5,000 Euros a piece'