Marine Le Pen Forms Far Right Bloc In European Parliament
Led by Marianne Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front, far right parties in the European Parliament have formed a coalition:
PARIS — More than a year after populist, far-right parties surged in elections for the European Parliament, several of them announced on Tuesday that they had finally banded together with the goal of raising their political profile.
The new far-right bloc will be led by Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front, who along with like-minded politicians has long seen the European Parliament as a useful platform to promote an anti-immigration agenda and to rail against European Union institutions and the accumulation of power in Brussels.
“We will be a political force that cannot be compared to our previous situation,” Ms. Le Pen said at a news conference in Brussels with Geert Wilders, from the Dutch Party for Freedom, and the other far-right leaders who will be working with her.
Mr. Wilders and Ms. Le Pen have been close allies over the last several years.
“This is D-Day,” Mr. Wilders said at the news conference. “This is the beginning of our liberation.”
The bloc’s formation comes atop a host of other worries for the European Union, in particular the prospect of what is known as “Grexit” and “Brexit” — the withdrawal of Greece or Britain from the union, each for a completely different reason. Greece appears to be on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars in loans and has balked at demands from its creditors. In Britain, many question whether it is to their benefit to remain part of the union.
Ms. Le Pen had been trying to form a group for more than a year since her party won 23 seats in last year’s European Parliament election. Her failure to do so until now had been a blow to her ambition to extend her party’s influence. However, seeking to soften her party’s image, she also vowed not to join with parties whose reputations are even more extreme than that of her National Front.
They include Greece’s Golden Dawn, which has a reputation for violence, and Hungary’s Jobbik party, which has made anti-Semitic statements. Both are represented in the European Parliament.
The new bloc will not include them, but it will contain far-right representatives from seven countries. Their presence reflects the widespread gains that fringe parties have made in Europe because of discontent with troubled economies, with migration pressures, with growing numbers of Muslims and with what is seen as a cumbersome and distant bureaucracy in Brussels.
Ms. Le Pen’s new group includes at least 36 members of the Parliament, including ones from the National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party, Italy’s Northern League, the Belgian Flemish Interest Party and the far-right Polish party, as well as a British member of the European Parliament who left the United Kingdom Independence Party.
The bloc, which is known as a political group under European Union rules, will go by the name Europe of Nations and Freedoms. Under the rules, a group must have at least 25 members and include representatives from seven nations. The main reasons formal groups organize is to become eligible for funding and to gain influence, speaking time in the European Parliament and a chance to lead committees, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Center in Brussels.
For the far right, the access to money is the main thing, Mr. Zuleeg said. “The far-right extremist groups don’t use the time they have in the Parliament because, at least in principle, they are against the whole principle of a parliament because it’s part of the hated European project,” he said.
Le Pen, of course, has been trying to soften the image of her party for several years now, most noticeably by essentially forcing her father Jean Marie Le Pen out of power in France and, now, banning him from having any connection to the Brussels power bloc she has formed. In substance, of course, the National Front of Marine Le Pen isn’t all that different from what it was under her father when it comes to policy positions. The question is whether her efforts to put a kinder face on the party’s harsh, far right rhetoric, will make a difference electorally. While we’ll have to wait until the next French elections to see that, the fact that her party did so well in last year’s elections for the European Parliament is at least some indication of the kind of potential it has to become a political force in French domestic politics. The formation of this bloc in Brussels, which will no doubt exploit much of the anti-European Union sentiment that is prevalent these days, is another step in that process.