ALDE-Five Stars: marriage of convenience?



Serge Turbin OPINION

The news from the European Parliament of The Five Star Movement (M5S, Italy) joining the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) puzzled many of Brussels pundits and experts. Moreover, the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC), ALDE’s youth wing, issued a statement condemning this move: “LYMEC understands the urge to grow the liberal group in the European Parliament; however, we do not believe this should be done at the expense of giving up on fundamental liberal values and principles. Accepting EU- and Euro-sceptic, populist 5 Star Movement would be to do so”.

An anti-establishment, anti-globalist and Eurosceptic Italian political party led by charismatic comedian Beppe Grillo, considers leaving the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group in the European Parliament and joining pro-federal European ALDE group. In an online voting, the M5S members approved the decision to depart from the group that the 17 M5S MEPs share with Nigel Farage’s UKIP. Now the ball is in the ALDE court, with executive committee of the ALDE bureau set to pronounce its verdict today.

ALDE assessment of the 7 conditions of Moviemento 5 Stelle: incompatible with our own pro-European political programme. To accept the party of Beppe Grillo in its ranks, would be to abandon the European project and the urgent reforms it desperately needs. It is impossible for any responsible, pro-European group to take the M5S on board”, – wrote Mr Verhofstadt on his Facebook page on the 11th of June 2014, commenting on EP elections results. Today, two and a half years later, ALDE’s assessment has dramatically reversed; and the post has been deleted, correspondingly.

The ALDE bureau is expected to give the green light to the controversial political merger that would propel ALDE to the third largest group in the legislature. Remarkable, this unexpected marriage of convenience is being orchestrated just days after ALDE group’s leader Guy Verhofstadt declared his bid for Parliament presidency. Being the leader of the third largest group in the Parliament may boost Mr Verhofstadt’s chances. And yet, it inflicts sustained damage in the long term, tarnishing Mr Verhofstadt’s personal integrity and ALDE’s institutional credibility.

The prospect of M5S entering ALDE has sent shockwaves among ALDE individual members, and become a central theme of their online debates – pushing their daily routine criticism of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin further apart. Emotionally, many Italian members have promised to terminate their party membership, cut their membership cards and disavowed their support for Mr Verhofstadt’s presidential bid.

Mr Verhofstadt has been well-known as a ferocious critic of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, EPP vice-president. With Beppe Grillo in the ALDE ranks, the liberal leader conveniently exposes himself to any potential EPP counter-attack.

Serge Turbin, Brussels, 9/01/2017

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