By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Eurosceptic parties should not get European Union funds, the head of the largest group in the European Parliament proposed on Tuesday, a move that would strip parties like France's National Front and the UK Independence Party of millions of euros.
Euroscepticism is growing across the continent, alarming the continent's mainstream political parties, with the anti-EU forces looking set to win significant shares of the vote in Dutch elections on Wednesday and France's presidential election in April. Cutting their financial support would be one way to reduce their clout.
"The question is whether Europe is so stupid to fund its enemies," Manfred Weber, the chair of the conservative grouping in the European legislature, told reporters.
He said that his group has asked the president of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to propose rules that would stop EU financing of eurosceptic parties. A spokeswoman for the European Commission declined to comment.
Ending the funding of the anti-EU parties would not be easy. The legislation Weber is asking for, if ever proposed by the Commission, would need to be approved by the European Parliament and by EU states.
To avert criticism on how to define a eurosceptic party and on risks of censorship, Weber said anti-EU forces should not be outlawed but should agree on some fundamental EU principles if they want to continue getting the money.
"This little outburst shows how desperate Europhiles really are," UKIP leader Paul Nuttall said. "There is no such thing as EU money. It's taxpayers' money and Eurosceptic parties have a mandate from their voters who pay tax."
"No taxpayers' money should be used for those who want to destroy Europe," Weber said.
Openly anti-EU parties receive generous EU funding because dozens of their candidates were elected as MEPs in 2014's European elections. Forty MEPs belong to the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group, led by the Marine Le Pen's National Front and representing Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom and Italy's Lega Nord as well.
Twenty UKIP lawmakers lead the 42-member-strong Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group, among whose members are anti-euro parties like Italy's 5-Star Movement.
In a separate move that confirms a harder line against eurosceptic and extremist forces, the parliament chair, Antonio Tajani, on Tuesday imposed "sanctions unprecedented in severity," against a Polish eurosceptic MEP, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, for sexist remarks.
Korwin-Mikke, who is not attached to any grouping in the legislature, will be suspended from parliamentary activities for 10 days and will be forced to forfeit his allowances for a month, the Parliament said in a press release.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, editing by Larry King)