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photo source: aljazeera

by Robert Heslop

One can only imagine the disbelief, worry and even fear amongst the ranks of the mainstream pro-EU party blocs when the seemingly impossible happened, the nationalist parties of Le Pen and Wilders had managed to recruit the minimum of 25 MEPs from seven of the Member States to create a new and ardently anti EU bloc called ‘Europe of Nations and Freedom’. Does this bloc signal the beginning of the end of dominance the pro EU parties currently enjoy? Potentially, yes.

On the other hand, the mainstream parties could use the formation of this party group to their own advantage as it offers the opportunity to confront the Euro-sceptics head on, in the hope of showing the electorate the weaknesses of the Euro-sceptic arguement and just as importantly how the European Parliament can act similar to a ‘normal’ national state parliament where ideologies and personalities clash. Far too often the European Parliament can appear to be so consensual that the main centre right and centre left blocs are accused of sharing the same ideologies, leading to the all familiar charge heard across the continent, ‘what is the point of voting when they are the same’?

Whilst nationalist parties have formed blocs before, such as Nigel Farage’s UKIP taking the lead in the ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group’, the ‘Europe of Nations and Freedom’ group is particularly fascinating because of the controversy surrounding the two leading figures of that group, Marin le Pen and Wilders. Whilst MEPs can have a successful career without becoming a news item outside of their country, Le Pen and Wilders have become infamous throughout Europe for their hard-line anti immigrant, anti EU and nationalistic rhetoric. Indeed, when the formation of the bloc was announced Wilders said, ‘Today it’s the beginning of our liberation, our D-Day and that the bloc would fight mass migration as well as Islamisation. Whilst many within the Parliament may firmly reject these views, if Wilders continues to make these controversial statements it is fair to assume that the European Parliamentary debates shown on EuroparlTV (yes there really is a TV channel for the European Parliament) will attract larger audiences.

So one must ask, what does this new bloc means for the European Parliament? Will this group of 37 MEPs become the enemy within and tear down the institution they despise or will it be ignored by the mainstream parties? Whether the pro EU bloc’s side step this anti EU party is yet to be determined, but one thing is for certain, these MEPs do represent millions of Europeans who have very real concerns about the direction Europe is travelling in. One may disagree with their views even find them abhorrent, but in a truly democratic polity all views as long as they do not break the law must be respected and then challenged.

When a new party bloc has formed this group gains access to more EU funding and receives greater speaking time during plenary. In short, the ability to form a bloc gives previously minor parties much greater influence. This could be problematic for the daily running of the European Parliament, as Le Pen and Wilders could use their new positions to undermine the effectiveness of the European Parliament as an institution.

But the real question isn’t whether or not this new bloc will use their newly found power to undermine the EU; it is whether or not the parliament which supposedly represents the views of the entire electorate will give this bloc the space to voice their grievances? I must stress the point that in a mature democratic system the greatest test is whether one can accommodate those you disagree with. On the surface, this new bloc appears to represent a very real threat to the European Parliament, but this assumption is wrong. The formation of this bloc offers a real opportunity for the pro EU parties to challenge the Euro-sceptic arguement and win back those disgruntled voters who feel that the EU is too powerful, undemocratic and is threatening the sovereignty of the nation state. With the EU facing existential internal and external crises, the passionate and rational pro EU voices must be heard louder than ever, I hope the arrival of this new bloc forces the pro EU MEPs from across the political spectrum to do just that.