Belgian media are reporting that Liberal Group (ALDE) leader in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister, has lost both his internal authority and external credibility following the failed rapprochement with the left-radical Italian party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), led by comedian Beppe Grillo.
The power-hungry Verhofstadt, who is also the European Parliament’s negotiator on Brexit, wants to follow in the footsteps of the ultimate EU megalomaniac Martin Schulz and become President of the European Parliament. To boost his chances, he sought to integrate the 17 MEPs from M5S to the ALDE Group, only to have the proposal roundly rejected by the current group membership, who saw this unprincipled manoeuvre for what it was. Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws opines that the fiasco has almost certainly ruled out Verhofstadt’s chances of becoming EP President. It could even lead to him being ousted as ALDE Chair for what many of the group’s MEPs consider a betrayal of their values.
Verhofstadt is described by Het Laatste Nieuws as a “political opportunist who, blinded by personal ambition, would sell his beloved liberalism to anyone who wants it.” The M5S of Beppe Grillo first entered the European Parliament at the 2014 elections and considered themselves as “anti-establishment”. Up to now they have been part of the Eurosceptic EFDD Group, led by Nigel Farage, the man who led the Brexit campaign to take the UK out of the EU and ultimately wants to destroy the EU itself. With this background, M5S were never going to be a good fit for ALDE, widely considered the most federalist political group in the Parliament. Verhofstadt himself has called for a “United States of Europe”.
Numerous ALDE MEPs have publicly criticised Verhofstadt’s cynical willingness to sell group membership in pursuit of his purely personal ambitions. Brussels-based news service Politico reports MEP Marielle de Sarnez, who leads the French delegation of ALDE saying: “I will do everything so that this does not happen. This is an unnatural alliance. We are the most pro-European of formations, while the 5Star Movement is against the euro.” It has to be seen whether they will go further and seek to have him removed.