British Eurosceptics trade accusations with other MEPs

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, 2 Jul 14 Nigel Farage now has a 24-strong UKIP team in Strasbourg - compared with nine MEPs before

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The first debate in the new European Parliament has exposed sharp divisions, with British Eurosceptics trading angry accusations with pro-integration MEPs.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage mocked the way Jean-Claude Juncker was chosen to be European Commission chief.

As in the Eurovision Song Contest, "it doesn't matter how good the British entry is, we're always going to lose", he said.

Green MEP Philippe Lamberts hit back, asking him: "What are you doing here?"

He said Mr Farage's Eurosceptic speech belonged in the House of Commons, not in the European Parliament.

Mr Farage - whose UK Independence Party won the European election in the UK - compared Mr Lamberts with "somebody from the old communist era", intolerant of contrasting opinions.

In France the anti-EU National Front won the election and its leader Marine Le Pen told MEPs on Wednesday that "a new wind is blowing in this hemicycle [debating chamber]".

Ms Le Pen said that "trying to tell people their vote really counts just makes them laugh" and she attacked the "very obvious collusion" between the dominant pro-EU parties. Her nationalist party is not allied with UKIP.

Marine Le Pen (centre), 2 Jul 14 Marine Le Pen (centre) did not manage to form a group with other anti-EU parties

Earlier, the veteran Liberal group (ALDE) leader Guy Verhofstadt clashed with both UKIP and the British Conservatives.

He mocked the Conservatives' ideas about changing the EU, saying "I call it blocking all progress... abandoning all common European policies".

"That's not change, that's regression. No! What does conservative mean? If anything it means the status quo."

Mr Verhofstadt wants closer European integration, spearheaded by the European Parliament - a vision fundamentally at odds with the UK Conservatives' demand for a renegotiation and repatriation of powers to nation states.

Row about democracy
Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt deplores British moves to diminish the EU's powers

He defended the nomination of Mr Juncker by EU leaders, saying the former Luxembourg prime minister and veteran of EU consensus politics had been prominent in the May European election campaign.

UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall then objected that Mr Juncker "was not elected by the people".

Mr Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, fired back angrily: "I didn't see you in this European election! I didn't see Mr Cameron in this European election!"

The election boosted the numbers of Eurosceptic MEPs, amid widespread voter discontent over immigration and record unemployment. But pro-integration MEPs still have a majority in the parliament.

At the EU summit last week UK Prime Minister David Cameron failed to persuade other EU leaders not to back Mr Juncker. He lost the vote by 26 to two, with only Hungary voting "no" with him.

The Conservatives' group leader in Europe, Syed Kamall, told MEPs that the EU must abandon ideas of "a one-size-fits-all superstate" and embrace change to "meet the challenges of the 2050s".

"Let's turn our backs on the parliament of the backroom deal... leave behind the parliament of intolerance of minority views that challenge convention," he said.

German Socialist Martin Schulz was elected parliament president on Tuesday, after centre-right MEPs in Mr Juncker's party voted for him. Critics call the Juncker-Schulz victories a "stitch-up" between the main pro-integration parties.

Make-up of European Parliament
  • EPP - European People's Party (centre-right)
  • S&D - Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe (centre-left)
  • ALDE - Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (liberal)
  • GUE/NGL - European United Left-Nordic Green Left (left-wing and Eurosceptic)
  • Greens/EFA - Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens and regionalists/nationalists)
  • ECR - European Conservatives and Reformists Group (right-wing)
  • EFDD - Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (Eurosceptic)
  • NI - Non-attached (stands for "non inscrits" - MEPs not in any group, includes many Eurosceptics or anti-EU)

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