European parliamentarians have ditched normal procedures as a means of freezing out Europe's new extreme right group out of Strasbourg's positions of power.
MEPs held secret ballots, excluding the far-right members from key positions
Members of the European Parliament have united to exclude representatives of the new far-right wing party from key committee posts. However, the recently formed Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group (ITS) will receive funding after being officially approved as a political bloc.
"They got their cash, but lost any power," a parliamentary spokesman said of ITS.
The right-wing group includes a diverse range of politicians from Romania's xenophobic and anti-Roma Greater Romania party through to France's anti-immigrant National Front and Belgium's Vlaams Belang.
Prominent members include Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Pen and Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italy's former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Break with normal procedure
France's Jean Marie Le Pen is among the far-right alliance's prominent members
Under normal parliamentary procedure, committee positions are distributed according to the size of the parliamentary groups. This would have entitled the far-right wing alliance to two vice-chairmanships.
But parliamentary rules also allow for a vote if one-sixth of committee members request it. On Thursday, lawmakers decided to break with convention and called for secret ballots.
ITS' two nominees for the parliament's culture and transport committees were then voted down. The chairs and vice-chairs for the remaining 20 committees were endorsed without a vote.
The committee chairmanships, which has the power to influence the parliament's agenda, were largely seen as one of the few changes that could have occurred in the parliament's daily politics after the ITS was approved as a political group.
Applying unfair tactics?
Members of parliament were concerned about tarnishing the parliament's image
"The parliament operated in a legal, but, shall we say, slightly unfair fashion when they demanded votes," according to one parliamentary insider cited by the AFP news agency.
Spanish liberal Ignasi Guardans Cambo, who called for a secret vote in the culture committee along with Austrian socialist Christa Prets said keeping the vice-chairmanships out of ITS hands was important for the EU's image.
"A vice-chairman is our face to the outside," they said. "In the culture committee we cannot have a vice-chairman who works against immigration."
Italian far-right MEP Luca Romagnoli, who had stood for the post of vice-chairman of the transport committee, attacked the way other groups had acted.
"I thought that the European parliament had a high democratic level -- that it was an example for democracy and minority rights," he said. "But it's not like that at all."
The new group, whose leader Bruno Gollnisch is currently awaiting a court verdict on charges of Holocaust denial, is expected to protest, but parliament officials say it is legally powerless to act.
German MEP Martin Schulz called for lawmakers to form a cordon sanitaire against the far-right group
German MEP Martin Schulz, a member of the parliament's socialist group, in mid-January called for other political groups in the parliament to form a "cordon sanitaire" under which the parties would agree not to give extremist parties any important positions.
He also argued that the new faction infringed parliamentary rules because its members did not share a common political platform.
ITS has, however, been approved as political group after an investigation into its legitimacy by the EU parliament's administration. This means that it will receive funding of around 50,000 euros ($65,102) for each member.
ITS was formed on Jan. 9 when it met parliamentary rules requiring formal grouping have a minimum of 20 MEPs from at least six countries. Members of right-wing parties in Bulgaria and Romania, both of which joined the EU at the beginning of 2007, made this possible.