(CN) — Without commenting on whether funds were in fact misused, an EU court ruled Thursday that bias tainted a six-figure decision against political supporters of Brexit activist Nigel Farage.
The case stems from a 2016 decision by European Parliament against Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, a now-defunct political group linked to the Farage’s UKIP party.
Finding that the group had improperly spent EU grants spent on the party's domestic campaign in Britain, the European Parliament told the group to repay about $190,000 and later denied it $555,000 in new EU grants.
The group challenged that decision before the court in Luxembourg, complaining that the Bureau of Parliament was biased in failing to include a single representative of "euroskeptical" parties. Alleging outright hostility as well, the group quoted some public statements made by Ulrike Lunacek, a vice-president of the Parliament who belongs to the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and belongs to the bureau.
The European General Court ruled Thursday that "appearances of impartiality were seriously compromised" in the case, noting that Lunacek’s comments in particular gave the impression "that member had prejudged the issue" before the decision was made.
In demanding reimbursement from ADDE, the Parliament flagged financing surveys and opinion polls related only to UKIP that the group released in the U.K. ahead of Britain's 2015 general election and the 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the EU.
EU rules prohibit the use of bloc funding on referendum campaigns.
Without addressing whether the ADDE did misuse funds, the court did note Thursday that the group also used EU funds to conduct polls in Belgium, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, questioning how respondents would vote in an EU membership referendum, were one to be held.
"Only the part of the opinion poll relating to the UK is concerned by the prohibition of the financing of referenda campaigns," the court said in a statement. "Therefore, the court considers that the declaration that all the expenditure relating to the opinion poll was ineligible was not justified."
The ECJ did rule that Parliament was entitled to ask ADDE for a bank guarantee and to limit pre-financing for the party to 33% of the maximum amount of the grant for the 2017 financial year, a decision the political group had also challenged.
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