Liberal MEPs on Monday rebuffed a planned alliance with Italian opposition party, the Five Star Movement.
Members of Five Star, led by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, voted online to quit the Eurosceptic bloc in the European Parliament led by pro-Brexit party UKIP.
Grillo agreed a deal with UKIP’s then leader Farage after the 2014 elections, but on Sunday he wrote on his blog that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union left that party as a spent force in EU politics.
But members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) were outraged that the group’s leader Guy Verhofstadt had even tried to seal such a pact.
“For me they are not pro-European, they are anti-European, they play with national feelings, they see the idea that we should split Europe between the North an the South. The problem is not Germany if you are in the South, or the South if you are in Germany, the problem is to take into consideration the common interests,” French MEP Slyvie Goulart told euronews in an interview.
“There are not enough guarantees to push forward a common agenda to reform Europe,” said former Belgian premier Verhofstadt.
“There is insufficient common ground to proceed with the request of the Five Star Movement to join the ALDE Group. There remain fundamental differences on key European issues.”
It marked an enormous U-turn for Verhofstadt, who has been a vocal critic of so-called populist parties since entering the European Parliament.
Critics described his move as a cynical ploy to shore up votes for his attempt to become the next president of the European parliament. “nationalists and populists of all kinds”.
The election to replace Germany’s Martin Schulz, the only one of the European Union’s institutions that is elected by the public, takes place on January 17th.