Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Eurosceptic MEP Farage in eye of storm


Nigel Farage: "You have all the charisma of a damp rag"

By Dominic Hughes
BBC News, Brussels

"The charisma of a damp rag… the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk."

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP group in the European Parliament, had said he did not want to be rude to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

But having delivered some of the choicest insults the European Parliament has ever heard I think it's fair to say he failed spectacularly, if that really had been his intention.

So what lay behind his attack on the man known in his native Belgium as "the grey mouse"?

Grudge against Lisbon

Certainly Mr Farage has never been a fan of the big European institutions, including the parliament, of which he is a member.

The Lisbon Treaty, and the post of president that it created, was a particular bete noire for the UKIP MEP. And his views reflect those of his supporters, to whom the entire European "project" is an undemocratic disaster foisted on an unwilling British public by a political elite.

Herman Van Rompuy in European Parliament, 24 Feb 10
There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I'm not going to comment further
Herman Van Rompuy, President of European Council

So to an extent he was giving voice to the genuinely held beliefs of a significant number of British voters. After all, UKIP did come second in last year's European elections.

And who is Herman Van Rompuy? (Answer: The former Prime Minister of Belgium.) How did a man barely known outside his own country end up being in such a powerful position? (Answer: A classic European fudge/compromise, when all other potential candidates like Tony Blair were ruled out for one reason or another.)

But it should be noted that Mr Farage is also hoping to get elected as a Westminster MP in the forthcoming British general election. In typical fashion he is breaking with tradition and is standing against the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

His attack on Mr Van Rompuy got him valuable face time on BBC 1's Ten O'clock News, Radio 4's Today programme, the BBC News Channel - not to mention Sky, ITN, the papers and of course this piece for the BBC News website.

As for Mr Van Rompuy himself, he chose not to rise to the bait. While he did look surprised at the time, his response was limited to summing up the Farage attack by saying: "There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I am not going to comment further". But it must have been a bit of a shock in his first session appearing before the European Parliament.

Disdain for Farage

The chamber was less than full at the time and most of the interventions up to that point had been limited to fairly tame questions on the economic crisis.

The European Parliament works very much on consensus. That can make it seem a little dull when compared to the rough and tumble of the House of Commons. And there did seem to be some genuine anger at Mr Farage's verbal assault.

The head of the Socialist group, Germany's Martin Schulz MEP, said it was not acceptable and accused Mr Farage of "trampling on the dignity of the House".

The President of the Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said such "character assassination" was out of order.

Some parliamentarians believe Mr Farage may even be hoping to be suspended from the chamber in an effort to portray himself as a martyr to democracy. That of course would guarantee Nigel Farage some more valuable publicity.

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Observer Farage and EU - 7 hrs ago
The Independent Belgian outrage over tirade by MEP Farage - 12 hrs ago Farage was rude but right about Van Rompuy | Michael White - 29 hrs ago
Reuters UK British eurosceptic calls EU president "damp rag" - 45 hrs ago
Irish Times MEP calls EU president 'a damp rag' - 45 hrs ago

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