In the fight to form political groups in the European Parliament, arch Eurosceptic Nigel Farage has won the race to be the first to create a right-wing alliance, ahead of Marine Le Pen, who is also courting right-wing and populist MEPs in a bid to create a group of her own.
Following elections in May, which saw many Eurosceptic and populist members elected, there had been much speculation around the fact that for the first time there could be three parties to the right of the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP).
Much of that speculation centred around Farage, whose Ukip emerged as the biggest party in the United Kingdom, and Le Pen, whose Front National (FN) did the same in France. Both have been trying to engage like-minded MEPs in forming a group, which unlocks access to greater funding and positions on parliamentary committees and delegations.
In order to for a group to be formed, it needs a minimum of 25 members from seven member states.
Following much behind-the-scenes negotiations, Farage announced that he had secured enough members to ensure the continuation of his Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group.
Previously, he had suffered a blow when two of his national delegations, from Denmark and Finland, opted to join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), home of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party. The Italian delegation, Lega Nord, also jumped-ship, in this instance to join Le Pen.
Ukip will be the biggest delegation in the EFD, with 24 members, followed by Bepe Grillo’s Five Star Movement from Italy, with 17 members, and whose membership overwhelmingly voted to join the EFD in a poll last week, after also been courted by the Greens.
However, the group has three national delegations (Czech Republic, France and Latvia) made-up of only one member, leaving the group somewhat vulnerable to collapse. The French MEP, Joëlle Bergeron, was originally elected in May as a member of the FN, quitting days after the elections.
There are also two MEPs each from Lithuania and Sweden. The last pair, Kristina Winberg and Peter Lundgren, are members of the Swedish Democrats, a far-right party whose members have been known to wear Nazi uniforms at meetings. The Swedish Democrats had previously been associated with the pan-European political party, the Alliance of European National Movements, which also included amongst its members, the National Front in the UK and, before she quit in 2011, Marine Le Pen.
All eyes will now be on Marine Le Pen, who is having troubles securing the numbers for her own group after potential allies from Poland and Lithuania apparently quit her ranks over the inclusion of a delegation form Bulgaria.
Elsewhere, the ECR will overtake the Liberals as the third largest group in the parliament, following the admittance of the Belgian liberal party, NVA. The inclusion of the party, who want an independent Flanders, takes group membership to 68, one ahead of the Liberals.
Despite domestic differences between them, Open VLD, the party of Liberal group leader and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, voted to admit the NVA into its group. However, it instead opted at the last last minute to go in with the ECR.
The final composition of groups must be submitted to the parliament authorities by 24 June.