02-Jun-2011 - Barbara BOOKER - A SUMMARY & OPINION
On another thread (REDACTED) enthuses about what he describes as the absolutely exemplary, open and democratic manner in which debate is being conducted in UKIP about joining a pan-EU party. Despite being opposed to the idea himself, he suggests Nigel Farage deserves congratulation for such a democratic decision-making process.
You are too easily delighted! How many party members do you imagine will attend a regional meeting, or the Conference, or register on the website forum, to hear and discuss the arguments? 2000? About an eighth of the membership! Double that? Still only a quarter!
The majority will cast their vote solely on the basis of the FOR and AGAINST statements from the two co-ordinators, plus Steve Allison's explanatory statement, published in Independence Magazine. Note that the process does not allow the co-ordinators any opportunity in Independence to correct false claims made by the other side, or to deal with points raised at the meetings, or to sum up and make closing statements.
Nor does it provide any input from the NEC on the constitutional implications for UKIP of joining a Europarty. It's like asking a jury of laymen to reach a verdict on a complicated legal case without hearing any cross-examination, or any guidance or intervention from a judge, yet the result of the pan-EU party vote will enable the victorious side to claim democratic legitimacy however inadequate or misleading the information on which it was based.
Let's look at some of that information.
1) In his explanatory statement party vice-chairman Steve Allison wrote: "Each ballot paper will pose the question (subject to confirmation by the NEC): ‘Should the UK Independence Party’s MEPs be allowed to join a European Political Party and a European Political Foundation as defined under Regulation EC 2004/2003?’"
This is extremely misleading. The issue is not about granting permission for MEPs to join a Europarty. Although it is a small group of MEPs leading and pushing for the change, the decision is about whether UKIP itself should join an alliance which would make all UKIP members also members of the Europarty.
2) From reading the FOR and AGAINST statements members might easily think this is some academic debate about the desirability of belonging to pan-EU parties in general, instead of, as is actually the case, a question of deciding whether to join a specific Europarty. Neither side gives details, or even the name, of that party, and indeed the FOR side gives the clear impression that it is yet to be set up. It talks about UKIP "creating a new political party in the Parliament" and "creating a professional Think Tank", and states, "Presently 10 parties take money from that (EU funding) pot. If we become number 11, then the other ten parties lose".
This is not true. There are, as can be seen at Political parties at European level, currently eleven Europarties and eleven Foundations (think tanks) receiving EU funding grants. The decision for members is not whether UKIP should create a new Europarty and think tank, but whether it should join the already existing European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), whose think tank is the already existing European Foundation for Freedom (see Sharon Ellul Bonici's email 26.10.2010 at The Pan EU Alliance for Freedom: Sharon Ellul BONICI Announces UKIP's Inclusion - Members @ 26-Oct-2010).
Both organisations are registered at 27 Grognet Street, Mosta MST3613, Malta, and have websites at European Alliance for Freedom and www.eurfreedom.org respectively. UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom has joined and is a Board Member of the EAF. The maximum grant awarded to the European Alliance for Freedom for 2011 is 372,753 euros (the final figure may be less), and to the European Foundation for Freedom 244,217 euros.
Why has the FOR side not given members the correct facts?
3) To obtain the EU grants stated above, the EAF would have to have submitted with its application last November its political programme setting out its objectives, and its statute (party constitution) defining the bodies responsible for its political and financial management.
Why has the FOR side not made these important documents available to UKIP members to study? There can be no meaningful debate about joining a pan-EU party unless members understand what they would be agreeing to if they vote Yes.
4) The FOR side says the Europarty it wants UKIP members to agree to join would be "based on the existing Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group". It talks about "our current, comfortable set of working relationships with our prospective allies".
According to the EAF, its members come from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Sweden (none of which has MEPs in the existing EFD group), Lithuania and the UK (the only countries which do). Why is the FOR side misleading UKIP members over this?
The 'prospective allies' include:
Franz Obermayr MEP, Austria, FPO
Philip Claeys MEP, Belgium, Vlaams Belang
Torsten Gross (probably Germany, Citizens in Rage (BIW) party)
Kent Ekeroth MP, Sweden, Sweden Democrats
(included also, although not named by the EAF, are probably Frank Vanhecke MEP, Vlaams Belang; and Lithuanian MEPs Rolandas Paksas and Juozas Imbrasas)
5) The main plank of the FOR case is that joining a Europarty will bring into UKIP up to approximately £400,000 of EU funding every year, amounting to in excess of £1 million by the end of this parliamentary session in 2014. They state that gaining this money requires, "a small amount of matched funding: as little as 10% of the amount".
The first of those claims is a guesstimate figure, possibly based on a previous year's theoretical entitlement, but not necessarily relating to future funding. The second claim is incorrect.
The europarl website sets out the funding distribution system, consisting of two parts. 15% of the total amount available for Europarties (estimated as 17,075,000 euros for 2011) is divided equally between those that qualify, of which there are currently eleven including the European Alliance for Freedom. The rules require Europarties to have elected representatives in at least seven member states, but not necessarily MEPs, so there is no way of predicting how many new parties may be taking a share of this 15% in 2012, let alone in '13 and '14. The remaining 85% is divided between the parties in proportion to the number of MEPs they have, a number which as recent events in UKIP have shown, may not be constant.
Funding for the Foundations is distributed on the same scale as for the parties, although the total amount available is less (estimated as 11,140,000 euros for 2011).
Whilst acknowledging that UKIP would have to pay "a small amount of matched funding" in order to access its estimated £400,000 per year, the FOR side carefully avoids stating how much this would amount to. It also has the %age wrong.
The rules for Europarty/Foundation funding state, "the maximum possible rate of co-financing is 85% of the eligible expenses", therefore a minimum of 15% (not 10% as claimed) of its total expenditure will have to be provided by the EAF from its own resources.
Taking as an example the FOR side's estimated figure of £1,164,000 total annual grant to the EAF if UKIP joins, this means a minimum further £205,413 (approx) would have to be raised by the EAF from subscriptions, donations and contributions from member parties. As UKIP's estimated £400,000 share would be just over a third of the total grant, it presumably follows that up to a third of the shortfall, ie £68,470 might have to be contributed annually by UKIP.
However, that is a minimum figure. If, being one of the smaller parties, the EAF's estimated EU grant of £1,164,000 should be insufficient for it to finance its planned political programme, the rules allow for parties to contribute up to a maximum 40% of their total expenditure themselves, in which case the EAF would be allowed to provide a further £776,000 annually. In these circumstances UKIP's third share of the shortfall might amount to approximately £258,660 per year.
(Note: the above calculations are only an illustration of how the funding system works, and are based on the FOR side's own estimate of UKIP's share of the grant its Europarty might qualify for. No account has been taken of membership fees and other donations the Europarty might receive, which would form part of its 'own resources' and so reduce the sum required from UKIP. Note also that EU rules strictly prohibit Europarties and Foundations from accepting donations from the budgets of political groups in the European parliament).
Arising from the above, there are important points to consider. Any funds contributed at all by UKIP to a Europarty will be money diverted away from its campaigns to win seats at Westminster, on local councils, and on Scottish and Welsh assemblies. Once passed to a Europarty that money cannot, according to EU rules, be used to finance any national party or candidates. This is a different situation from at present when although there are restrictions on the use of MEPs' group funds, UKIP isn't having to pay for the privilege of its MEPs receiving them! As the body entrusted with the duty of ensuring that UKIP achieves its stated objectives, and responsible for the party's funds, what is the NEC's view on the possibility of thousands of pounds of members' subscriptions and donations passing out of its control to a Europarty? Does it consider this compatible with the pursuit of UKIP's principle aim of achieving withdrawal from the EU?
Also, can the NEC assure members that UKIP's share of EU grants paid to the Europarty and Think Tank, which the FOR side repeatedly says UKIP would benefit from, will be paid into UKIP's Head Office bank account and remain under the control of the party treasurer and NEC? Should this not be the case, where will the money go and who will control it?
As a member party of the EAF, what representation would UKIP have on its governing body and how would that person/people be selected? Would they have to be MEPs, or could UKIP members appoint whoever they wanted to look after their party's interests?
6) The FOR side says UKIP could use its grant to campaign on issues affected by EU legislation and gives the example, "we might use it to produce a flyer for the UK's young female voters on the effects of the recent European Court of Justice decision which will drive up their insurance premiums". Bearing in mind that the EU's rules are very strict in that grants "may only be used to meet expenditure directly linked to the objectives set out in the political programme", perhaps the FOR side could say which of the EAF's objectives, stated in its political programme, such a flyer would come under? See Statutes | European Alliance for Freedom
. . . to campaign for a non-centralised, transparent, flexible and democratically controlled EU towards the rejection of any development leading to a European superstate, given that there is no such thing as a ‘single European people’;
. . . to pursue true subsidiarity and self-rule ensuring that democracy is preserved on the basis of sovereign parliaments in Member States, over which the citizens exercise democratic control.
. . . to sustain diversity and accountable cooperation at a European level among free peoples able to regulate themselves in accordance with mutually agreed common standards;
. . . to uphold freedom of political expression and association across Europe and especially within the structures of the EU;
. . . to promote a political environment in which movements, political parties and other political organisations are given equal opportunities to voice their concerns and advance their political positions;
. . . to ensure that the peoples and nations of Europe are allowed to pursue their right to strengthen their own historical, traditional, religious and cultural values.
. . . to defend civil liberties and ensure that no characteristics of a totalitarian nature emerge in the continuing political development of the European Union, while identifying already existing anti-democratic legislation with an aim to revoke it;
It is the above objectives that expenditure of the grant must be directly linked to if UKIP joins the European Alliance for Freedom (slogan: 'The People's Voice in Europe'), not UKIP campaigns against EU treaties and judgements.
Does UKIP actually want to be the people's voice in Europe? Most members rather want to be out of Europe!
Reading the EU regulation on the allocation of Europarty and Foundation grants as described above in 5), it is difficult to see why UKIP is having this debate about joining a pan-EU party at all. The European Alliance for Freedom has managed to meet the requirements for setting up a new Europarty and Foundation without UKIP's participation, and Godfrey Bloom's involvement is proof that there is no bar to UKIP members joining as individuals. Whilst it is understood that the AGAINST side would be opposed on grounds of principle to having any representation in a pan-EU party at all, UKIP members are nevertheless free to make up their own minds. If those MEPs in favour were to follow Godfrey Bloom's example and join as individuals, they would attract the Europarty and Foundation funding that the FOR side regards as so essential. All the benefits the FOR side claims would flow from UKIP's membership would in fact be available if just its MEPs joined. Ordinary party members who support the FOR side could also join as individuals if they wished.
The grants would be no higher, and the benefits no greater for having the whole of UKIP join, than they would if just the MEPs did so.
Why split the party with this issue unnecessarily?
Consolidated TEXT: 32003R2004
1. Available appropriations shall be distributed annually as follows among the political parties at European level which have obtained a positive decision on their application for funding as referred to in Article 4:
(a) 15 % shall be distributed in equal shares;
(b) 85 % shall be distributed among those which have elected members in the European Parliament, in proportion to the number of elected members.
Posted by: Greg Lance-Watkins
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