When xenophobic far-right political parties in the European Parliament formed a group last year, many predicted it would fall victim to its inherent contradictions. Parties whose bread and butter is attacking foreigners were expected to find it a bit difficult to cooperate even if they were all cut from the same extremist cloth.
Now the Romanian contingent of the Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty group (ITS) is threatening to pull the plug. The Greater Romania Party on Thursday announced it was withdrawing its five members because of comments by Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Italian dictator, about Romanians.
The standoff between Italian and Romanian xenophobes was sparked by the murder of an Italian woman last week, which police suspect was perpetrated by a Romanian immigrant from the Roma community. While the center-left Italian government has responded by authorizing the expulsion of any Romanians, or other EU citizens, who are deemed to pose a danger, the Italian far-right has been calling for even harsher measures.
Mussolini was quoted as saying this week that: "Breaking the law became a way of life for Romanians. However, it is not about petty crimes, but horrifying crimes, that gives one goose bumps."
Romania's far-right reacted with fury. The head of the Greater Romania Party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor said in a letter to the parliament: "The unconsciousness of this lady who makes easily generalizations, leaving us to understand that all the Romanians are living like delinquents and are making dreadful crimes, reminds us of her grandfather, the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini."
Later on Thursday, the Romanians said they would consider staying in the group if Mussolini were removed. This would allow the group to continue to fulfill EU parliament rules stipulating that all political groups have a minimum of 20 members from at least six member states. The group currently has 23 members. If it collapses, members of the ITS would lose a range of political and financial privileges such as speaking time, extra staff and places on overseas delegations.
The diverse group cobbles together the 27-member bloc's anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic parties and politicians such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front from France, Belgium's Vlaams Belang and Bulgarian MEP Dimitar Stoyanov.
The infighting in the ITS has been regarded with some degree of wry amusement by other MEPs. Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists in the European Parliament said the ITS memberswere "a casualty of their own philosophy which paints all foreigners in a single mold and encourages xenophobic and racist comments."
One Scottish MEP, Alyn Smith, even released a statement to express his schadenfreude: "Watching these people argue amongst themselves warms the heart."