European Union and its key institutions have become an easy target for Eurosceptics over the past decade. And a large part of European citizenry welcome and show tolerance to such critics. The recent economic crises and the rise of unemployment and poverty across Europe can explain these attitudes.
However, one institution attracts the interest of many politicians who divide their activities between European and national politics.
Since the last European elections in 2014, some MEPs moved from the European ground to the daily political life of their home countries, while others keep both their identities as MEP and leaders of a national party.
One of the most visible examples is Martin Schulz, who served as president of the European Parliament between 2012 and 2017. He passed from the head of the European Parliament to the head of the second largest political party in Germany and contested the tough federal elections of 2018 as the SPD candidate for the German Chancellorship.
Kaja Kallas, was a member of the European Parliament between 2014 and 2018. On April 2018 she assumed the leadership of the largest Estonian party, the liberal Reform Party, a member of the ALDE Group. In September of the same year, she stepped down from the European Parliament. Today, she is leading her party in the upcoming March 3 national elections.
While President of the European Parliament since 2017, Antonio Tajani follows closely the politics of his own country Italy. He is the vice-president of the Forza Italia party, which was founded by Silvio Berlusconi. Tajani has extensive experience in European politics since he has been MEP since 1994 and twice European Commissioner.
Another German is Reinhard Bütikofer, who was leader of the Alliance 90/The Greens between 2002 and 2008 and since November 2012 is the co-Chair of the European Green Party.
But the list is long and includes leaders elected in 2014 who step down before 2019 in order to follow better the obligations a national leadership imposes or pressed by other reasons to do so.
Interestingly enough, however, most of the MEPs who are at the same time leaders of their parties belong to the Eurosceptic or even anti-EU sphere.
Reinhard Bütikofer, was leader of the Alliance 90/The Greens between 2002 and 2008 and since November 2012 is the co-Chair of the European Green Party.
The widely known ‘ex’
Six leaders became widely known for their declarations or national success. Three of them belong to the European far right, two in the left and one, Nigel Farage, is responsible for the Brexit adventure.
Without a doubt, the French far-right politician Marine Le Pen is better known for her presence in both the national and European politics. Le Pen inherited the party her father Jean-Marie Le Pen founded in 1972. She became President of the National Front in 2011 (the party is now called National Rally) and was twice candidate for the Presidential elections. A member of the European Parliament since 2009, in 2015 she became Chair of the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (ENF). In June 2018, the General Court of the European Union rejected a bid by Le Pen to overturn a ruling that she had wrongly used parliamentary funds to pay an aide who was based at her party’s headquarters in Paris. The bid was against a decision of the European Parliament to recover €300,000 from her related to wrongly used parliamentary funds. Le Pen step down as a MEP on 18 June 2017.
If Le Pen is the most known, Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini had the most successful career. Leading the anti-immigration and racist League party (a member of ENF), a former secessionist political party in Italy, he became deputy prime minister and interior minister in a coalition government last summer. Known for his tough declarations against migrants and Roma people and his blatant pro-Russian rhetoric Salvini was a member of the European parliament between 2004 and 2018.
Even MEP Gerolf Annemans served briefly as the leader of the Belgian far-right party Vlaams Belang between 2012-2014.
On the other side of the political spectrum, two figures who made headlines are France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Spain’s Pablo Iglesias.
Mélenchon, a member of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2017 is the leader of the left populist movement La France Insoumise (FI). He was a candidate in the 2017 presidential election winning 19.58% of the vote in the first round. Iglesias, leader of the movement Podemos, which surprisingly emerged as an important political factor in Spain during the years of the economic crisis in 2014, was a MEP for a quite short time, between 2014 and October 2015.
Both are now dedicated in national politics.
Nigel Farage is of course a unique case in politics. As leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), he fought for the withdrawal of his country from the European Union. Brexit and the eventual catastrophes that may result can be attributed to Farage. However, while feeling a deep disgust for the EU and its institutions, Farage does not have the same aversion for the EU coffers. After he celebrated the result of the Brexit referendum in UK, recently left his party, founded another, the Brexit Party. He wants to run again for the European Parliament hoping that the Brexit process will last past the March 29 deadline.
But not all MEPs who were simultaneously leaders of national parties stepped down from the European Parliament. There are many who lead their party affairs from Brussels.
Without any doubt the Czech Republic is the champion.
Jiří Pospíšil was a successful politician in his country and MEP of the EPP Group since 2014. In 2017, a leadership issue emerged in his party and the young MEP decided to run for the presidency. And he succeeded. Since then, he is MEP and president of the liberal conservative TOP 09 (a member of the EPP).
Pavel Telička was the first Czech Commissioner in 2004. Now he announced the formation of the party Voice.
The former Czech Commissioner for Health in 2004 Pavel Telička is another case of a high-level politician. His role during the negotiations for Czech Republic’s admission in the EU is important. An ally of Andrej Babiš and his party ANO, Telička was elected in the EP in 2014, but he resigned from ANO in 2017 due to disagreements with the leader of the party. He has been a vice-chair in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. In February, he and another MEP, Petr Ježek, announced the formation of a new grouping, Voice (Hlas in Czech).
According to local media, another Czech MEP, the journalist and writer Jaromír Štětina will probably launch a new movement.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is a member of the GUE/NGL Group. A year ago, his leadership was claimed by a MEP, Kateřina Konečná. She did not succeed. However, since 2018 she is the vice-chair of her party.
Petr Mach founded a libertarian party, the Party of Free Citizens, which became a member of the EFDD Group and competed in the European Parliament in 2014. While MEP, he stepped down in 2017 from both the European Parliament and the leadership of his party.
France follows. Jean-Marie Cavada, a MEP since 2004, is the president of the liberal movement Génération citoyens (GC) which was founded in 2015 and is part of the ALDE Group.
In a more radical position is Virginie Rozière, co-President of the Radicaux de Gauche (Left radicals) and member of the S&D Group. Her party split from the Parti radical de gauche (PRG) in 2017.
Slovenia is a small country and one of the newest in the EU. But the interest for European affairs is high. MEP Igor Šoltes (a member of the Group of Greens) was the President of the Court of Auditors of Slovenia between 2004 and 2013. In 2014, he formed a ticket named ‘I believe’ (Verjamem in Slovene) and ran for EU elections. The result was successful: he won 10.45% of the vote. In the next European elections, he will lead his own ticket again.
Igor Šoltes will lead his own ticket again.
Vice-President of the Slovenian Democratic Party and a former Minister of Education and Sports Milan Zver is a member of the European Parliament for the EPP Group since 2009. Another MEP Romana Tomc also a member of the Slovenian Democratic Party was the candidate in the Croatian presidential election of 2017.
The party of Christian Democracy was the most powerful party in Italy after WWII. Now the glorious tradition is continued by the Union of the Centre (UdC) a member of EPP, whose president is the member of the European Parliament Lorenzo Cesa. He was also President of the Centrist Democrat International (CDI) between 2004 and 2015.
The Portuguese Democratic Republican Party is a member of ALDE despite the fact that many media depict it as Eurosceptic. His founder and leader António Marinho e Pinto was elected in the European Parliament as top candidate for the Earth Party (MPT).
MEP Maria Grapini comes from the ranks of the Romanian Conservative Party and was elected in 2014. But in 2015 she founded another party, the social-liberal Party of Humanist Power (PPU) which is a member of the S&D Group.
The Hungarian Péter Niedermüller is an experienced politician a MEP since 2014 and Vice-President of the Democratic Coalition (DK), a social-liberal party active in the democratic opposition.
The Latvian-Russian journalist Miroslav Mitrofanov is the co-Chiarman of the Russian ethnic minority party For Human Rights in United Latvia (LRU) and MEP since 5 March 2018. He is a member of the Group of Greens.
Péter Niedermüller is Vice-President of the Democratic Coalition (DK), a social-liberal party active in the democratic opposition in Hungary.
Between Euroscepticism and Europhobics
Among the MEPs who are simultaneously leaders of national parties there are many that face EU with hard Euroscepticism while others are openly against. Both averse the idea of European integration and defends the strong national state.
Bernd Lucke is a German economist and leader of the Liberal Conservative Reformers (LKR), part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Lucke was co-founder and federal spokesman of the then hardly Eurosceptic AfD and he led the campaign for the European Elections in 2014. After the far-right tendency prevailed on AfD in 2015, he left the party and founded LKR. Since November 2018 he is again its federal chairman.
Bernd Lucke was co-founder and federal spokesman of the AfD and now is the leader of the Liberal Conservative Reformers (LKR).
Another German MEP, Martin Sonneborn is at the same time MEP, founder and federal chairman of a party, the Die PARTEI. His party was founded in 2004 by the editors of a satirical magazine.
MEP Raffaele Fitto elected with Silvio’s Berlusconi Forza Italia, is the founder of the Direction Italy, a small conservative party member of the ECR.
The economist and businessman Richard Sulík, a MEP since 2014, is the leader of the Slovak Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) a member of ECR. While a liberal party and supporter of the liberalisation of drugs and the same-sex marriage, expresses anti-Islam views. Founded in 2009 SaS is among the first European parties that made an extensive use of the social media during the elections.
Notis Mariás was elected in the European Parliament with the ticket of the conservative party Independent Greeks, a party that was a partner in the coalition government with the leftist Syriza between 2015 and 2019. Marias founded in 2017 his own political party, Greece the other way, is a member of ECR of which he is Vice-Chairman.
The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (LLRA) is an ethnic minority party led by Valdemar Tomaševski since 1999. Tomaševski has been a MEP since 2009 and he is a member of ECR.
The Cypriot Eleni Theocharous is the founder of the Solidarity Movement, a split of the conservative Democratic Rally (November 2015) with hard nationalist views on the Cyprus problem. Since 2016, she is a member of ECR.
The successful journalist Nikolay Barekov founded Bulgaria Without Censorship in 2014 and participated to the EU elections in a coalition with the far-right IMRO. MEP and member of the ECR, Barekov supports the restoration of the monarchy and Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as Tsar of Bulgaria.
From its side, the European far-right has a quite strong representation as well and some renamed national leaders are in the European Parliament.
One of the two federal spokespersons of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Jörg Meuthen is a member of the European Parliament since the end of 2017. While a hard far-right party with a particular radical speech against Muslims and migrants, AfD is a member of the EFDD. Meuthen is the top candidate of the party for the EU elections.
Florian Philippot was once a powerful French politician. Strategic director of Marine Le Pen’s presidential campaign since 2011 he quickly became Vice President of the National Front, a position he kept between 2012 and 2017. Elected in 2014, he left Le Pen’s party in 2017 and founded The Patriots, initially a member of ENF. Recently The Patriots joint the EFDD Group.
The EFDD was joint also by another split from the National Front. Aymeric Chauprade left Le Pen on November 2015 founded Les Français Libres. Chauprade was elected in 2014 and he is vice-president of EFDD.
The Finnish Jussi Halla-aho expressed hard far-right views more than once. In 2008-2009, he was investigated for ‘ethnic agitation’. He is known for his anti-Islam and racists rhetoric while in 2011 he proposed, via Facebook, that the solution for Greece’s debt problems was nothing less than a military junta. He became leader of the Finns Party in 2017 after an internal fight against those who served as Ministers in the coalition government. Despite his views he is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists.
The Austrian Harald Vilimsky who was elected in the EP in 2014 is also the Secretary General of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) and member of the ENF Group. The party is part of the coalition government and his leader Heinz-Christian Strache is the Vice-Chancellor of Austria.
Elected as a candidate of the party of the controversial Polish politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke, Stanisław Żółtek became leader of the Congress of the New Right (KNP), a member of the EFN.
While serving their last weeks in the European Parliament, two MEPs from the UK leads national parties.
MEP Gerard Joseph Batten is the new leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – elected just a few days ago. His compatriot, William Milroy Etheridge, was elected in 2014 as a UKIP candidate. However, he left the party in October 2018 to join the Libertarian Party (LPUK) and became his Deputy Chairman.