For those of you who haven’t followed the story, the Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo’s insurgent political force that looks to possibly even form the next Italian government if the Italian establishment doesn’t stitch up a voting system to stop them from doing so, decided to leave their grouping in the European Parliament and join ALDE, the liberal grouping that includes the Lib Dems. The interesting thing from a British angle on all this is that the Five Star Movement were at the time in UKIP’s grouping, the terrifyingly titled Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy. This grouping is led by Nigel Farage himself and is basically just UKIP, Five Star and few assorted loons spread across Europe. They had 44 MEPs; with Five Star’s departure, they only had 27. This would have affected their funding, i.e. UKIP’s funding.
If you think I’ve lost the ability to use the past tense correctly, I should now mention that ALDE turned Five Star down flat, crushing the whole thing even before the MEPs could vote on it. Why? Let’s try and look at this from a pro-ALDE perspective first. Five Star are anti-federalist and have called for a referendum on Italy remaining in the single currency. There have been some dodgy foreign policy utterings as well; nothing major, just the sort of pro-Kremlin murmurs one hears across Europe these days. In some ways, M5S is such a strange political beast, I could see why ALDE didn’t know what to make of the overture. But rejecting Five Star not only was a poor move, it may turn out to be an act of epoch defining stupidity by the already beleaguered liberal European political elite.
If ALDE had let Five Star in, that would have sent a great signal about liberal openness. The grouping would also have had one of Europe’s few populists movements that is not vocally nativist in design in its tent as well. With foresight, ALDE leaders could have seen that having Five Star with them would inevitably shape the way the Italian movement thinks about policy and the way it communicates its ideas. By having to become “liberal”, at least in theory, Five Star would have had to become actually more liberal over time, I believe.
After ALDE rejected Five Star, Grillo reportedly begged Farage to let his party back into the EFDD, which after extracting the maximum amount of humiliation from the Italian, Farage obviously did. So ALDE had a chance to help convert a populist movement into a liberal one and hurt UKIP and Eurosceptics generally in the parliament at the same time. They’ve now managed to strengthen populism and Euroscepticism in one go, all over some trifling rubbish about supporting the single currency on pain of death.
This amounts to such a wasted opportunity for ALDE, a bungling of such epic dimension, I can’t help but loathe them for it. Things just keep getting worse and worse for European liberals – sadly, their leaders are mostly to blame for this catastrophe. Having spent time around ALDE and other European liberal parties individually, the one thing I noticed again and again is a lack of understanding about how politics basically works. If European liberals continue to be stupid on this subject, the far-right will continue to have an easy ride.