Andrus Kivirähk’s literary send-up of the 19th century manor era in Estonia, Rehepapp, features a character named Egg-Ott. He was a guy who switched between working for God and the Devil – whatever it took to eke out a living.
The European Union got itself a group much like the Kivirähk character this week when Front National leader Marine Le Pen got the votes she needed to form the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom. The requirement was 25 MEPs from seven countries. The group itself has 37 members but the problem was finding MEPs from seven countries. But they attained that quota after a British Independence Party defector and Polish right-extremist party members jumped across.
Besides those members, the group includes the usual suspects – Le Pen’s FN plus the Dutch and Austrian Freedom Party, Italy’s Lega Nord and the Belgian Vlaams Belang. The new group is not the only Eurosceptic one. The European Parliament also has the 46-member Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy led by the British Independence Party and the Italian Five Star Movement.
But where does Egg Ott enter the picture? It’s at the point where money is involved. According to EurActiv, an online publication, Europe of Nations and Freedom will receive 17.5 million euros of European taxpayer money over the next four years, as it is an official European Parliament group. Besides that, they gain access to information circulating in European Parliament, as they now have the right to take part at the conference of presidents, which decides the parliamentary agenda. The new group’s members can also appoint a shadow rapporteur who monitors the European Parliament’s legislative process. They can take part in tripartite talks between European Parliament, European Council and member states. All this gives the new Eurosceptic group more influence.
Yet it should be recalled that Le Pen’s FN has also received funding and other support from Russia. For instance, FN received 40 million euros in loans from the First Czech-Russian bank, which despite its name is considered wholly Russian-owned. Allegedly Le Pen has also met Russian President Vladimir Putin in secret. Europe’s far-right parties also supported the annexation and occupation of Crimea.
Russia’s investment into European far-right parties is starting to pay off. 10. On 10 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Russia, mentioning the annexation and occupation of Crimea as well as the backing for rebels in Ukraine. Many of the new group’s members voted against the resolution.
Pecunia non olet, said the Roman emperor Vespasian in the matter of funding public urinals. The new group is receiving money from the EU to undermine the EU. And as to the Russian funding, we probably know only a fraction. Even Egg Ott couldn’t have dreamed of a better deal, as he worked for God and Satan at different times, not at once. Real life outstrips literature in terms of colour.
This comment first aired on Retro FM’s Europe news on 19 June 2015.