The news regarding a deal between the ALDE group (composed by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the European Democratic Party) and the notorious Italian Grillo-led Five Star Movement shocked a lot of people; “What is going on?” we thought, “How can the most pro-EU, pro-free trade formation in the European political scenario welcome within its ranks the partially eurosceptic Italian populist and protectionist movement, which has continuosly been harshly criticized by Guy Verhofstadt himself?”
The deal is now officially dead, as proclaimed by ALDE’s leader Verhofstadt, but let’s see what actually was going on.
First of all, it’s important to point out that we are speaking about parliamentary groups, not parties. If the deal had to be successful, the 5SM wouldn’t have become affiliated to the ALDE party, but only joined its group in the European Parlialment.
The Five Stars Movement is currently part of the EFDD group (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy), the same group of which the Brexit paladin Nigel Farage and his UKIP are part, with which they have much more in common ideologically speaking; however, now Beppe Grillo is convinced that the alliance is destined to end soon, being the Brexit objective reached and the UKIP deputies set to leave the European institution. A new shelter had to be found then: the Greens closed their doors to the Italian movement, but the ALDE group seemed interested to add some new members within its ranks.
It seems that the 5SM deputee David Borrelli and Guy Verhofstadt were already negotiating some kind of deal in the last few days and, of course, to make the deal successful, both parts had to compromise. From two photos posted by a source close to the European Institutions, we learned the main points of the deal:
The ALDE group agreed to create a third formation called Direct Democracy Movement, of which the 5SM deputies would have been the majority, but the 5SM had to drop its request of a referendum on the Euro and to support Guy Verhofstadt in the race for the Presidency of the European Parliament (or the Vice Presidency).
As tradition, the M5S asked its members to express themselves on joining the liberal group, remain in the EFDD or join the mixed group; the great majority of the voters, 78,5%, although only a minority of those who had the right to vote, chose to join the ALDE group.
There has been heavy criticism inside the movement though, as some of the European deputies were totally unaware of this negotiation and very little forewarning was given to the members of the movement.
Why this deal though?
For what concerns the 5SM, maybe Grillo wanted to distance himself from the accusation of being too close to Putin and the far right, but I find this unlikely. We already know that he was looking for a new “home”, and only the Liberals seemed eager to share it with him. Some even say that this move’s only purpose was Grillo’s determination not to loose the funds destined only to the parties in the EU Parliament which identify with a group. Ultimately, I don’t believe this choice resulted from a change in the movement’s ideology, which remains highly skeptical of the common currency, as pointed out by major members of the 5SM..
But what could have earned the ALDE group from this deal? It would have become the third largest in the Parliament and Verhofstadt would have had more possibilities to be elected as president of the Parliament. I also believe in the sincere and genuine Verhofstadt’s willingness to make the 5SM less eurosceptic and closer to a more Europhile position: a brave but naive move.
In my opinion, the success of the deal would have resulted in a lose-lose situation, making it very little sense in the big picture. Such different positions shared by such different parties would have resulted in a backlash from the respective supporters, especially the ones who consider ALDE their best European pick. We already saw that when many national Alde-affiliated parties started to oppose this deal (among them, the Estonian Reform Party, the Danish liberals, the Swedish Liberal party, the German Fdp but also the European Liberal Youth). This move proved that Guy Verhofstadt has poor knowledge of the Italian political scenario, where most of the liberals were disappointed and felt backstabbed already hearing that the ALDE group thought to establish some kind of dialogue with the 5SM, and are now considering to switch their affiliation.
With this peculiar story and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the world never ceases to surpise us. We live in interesting times.