Comments by the granddaughter of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini have proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the far-right Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) group in the European Parliament.
Alessandra Mussolini's comments led to the ITS group disbanding
Alessandra Mussolini, an Italian member of the European Parliament (MEP), caused a storm last week when she described Romanians as "habitual lawbreakers" and called for the Romanian ambassador to Italy to be expelled. Her comments, reported in a Bucharest newspaper, led to five Romanian legislators leaving the ITS.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, the MEPs from the Greater Romania party confirmed that they had quit, leaving the ITS with just 18 members, two less than the minimum needed for an official presence in the parliament.
"The Greater Romania party withdraws from the ITS group of the European Parliament as a sign of protest against the xenophobic attitude and the insults directed toward Romanian people by Ms. Alessandra Mussolini," the Romanian statement to parliament read.
"The straw that broke the camel's back," said Romanian MEP and former ITS deputy chairman Eugen Mihaescu in a statement, was the "unacceptable amalgam" Mussolini made "between criminal gypsies and the entire Romanian population."
News brings happy response from other MEPs
EU assembly Vice President Edward McMillan-Scott announced the end of the ITS to loud applause, stating that the group had been disbanded because it fell short of the required number of MEPs needed to constitute a political group eligible for funds.
Martin Schulz welcomed the news of the ITS demise
"We are happy that this group, which does not belong in European democracy, has been dissolved," Martin Schulz, a German socialist MEP once branded a Nazi concentration camp guard by former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, told reporters after the announcement. "The good news is that the [grouping] of the ultra-nationalists no longer exists and cannot use the money of the European taxpayer to support its xenophobia and neo-fascism."
"This collection of unsavory European politicians were united only by hatred -- be it of other races, nationalities, sexualities or, ironically, the EU," British Green MEP Jean Lambert added. "It was only a matter of time before they succumbed to a hatred of each other as well."
The reaction to the news summed up the widespread opposition to the euroskeptic group, which was formed in January when the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU brought several new far-right MEPs into the parliament.
Far-right's influence curtailed by boycotts
The ITS had failed to gain a prominent position on any of the influential committees during its short existence after other main groupings joined forces to boycott them.
Far-right groups came under the ITS banner at the parliament
ITS was widely regarded as the most xenophobic and anti-EU group in the European parliament, uniting far-right parties such as France's National Front and Belgium's Vlaams Belang. Its dissolution deprives them of a voice as well as EU funds.
The ITS had been battling to survive ever since Mussolini's comments came to light on Nov. 8, in the midst of heated debate in Italy over the alleged crimes committed by Romanian migrants. That debate had been sparked by the murder of an Italian woman that was alleged to have been committed by a Romanian.
Party leaders had been locked in negotiations in a last-ditch effort to save the ITS and had considered expelling Mussolini to placate the Romanians. However, her comments had created more damage than first thought.
"It looks like she went too far," a parliament source told Reuters. "Also Mussolini was significant for them from a publicity point of view, so that was also a factor in the talks."