EU foe joins European Parliament, seeks like-minded allies
For Marine Le Pen, the trip to Brussels marked the latest step in a long campaign by the French National Front to shed its reputation as a refuge for anti-Semites and racists.
The Associated Press
BRUSSELS — French National Front leader Marine Le Pen wants to see the European Union (EU) collapse, but Wednesday, she struggled to find enough kindred spirits in the European Parliament to take her anti-EU campaign to the next level.
Le Pen, who arrived in Brussels fresh from a stunning election win for her party and other far-right groups in Europe, was undaunted and said she had just begun.
“We will try to stop any new advance of the EU,” she said.
Le Pen, whose party won more seats in the European Parliament on Sunday than any other in France, is trying to form a full-fledged parliamentary group: a step that would guarantee more speaking time at the rostrum and greater financial support.
By Wednesday afternoon, she had secured the backing of right-wing parties from four other EU nations: The Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party of Austria, Italy’s Northern League and Belgium’s Flemish Interest.
Under European Parliament rules, however, seven countries must be represented in a group. After Le Pen held closed-door parleys with the National Front’s partners, she said she was confident that will happen. “Look at the smiling faces in front of you and understand that we have absolutely no worries,” she said at a news conference where she was flanked by the other party leaders.
For Le Pen, the would-be standard-bearer of Europe’s far-right forces, the trip to Brussels marked the latest step in a long campaign by the National Front to shed its reputation as a refuge for anti-Semites and racists and to transform itself into a respectable political force with a serious shot at governing France one day. Immediately after its success in the European elections, the National Front rebranded itself “the first party of France.”
“Her goal is not to be re-elected to the European Parliament,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political analyst at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “Her goal is the Élysée Palace, not Brussels.”
Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and a close ally of Le Pen, called the gathering in Brussels a “historic meeting” that marked the end of Europe’s six-decade drive for economic and political integration.
The Northern League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, said the other parties had joined in an “alliance of hope.”
Salvini’s group once belonged to an existing group in the European Parliament run by another major winner in the European elections: the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) of telegenic British Euroskeptic Nigel Farage.
On Wednesday, it appeared Farage and Le Pen were courting some of the same parties — and were perhaps on a collision course for who will be the assembly’s No. 1 anti-EU politician. “Sorry, Nigel, we’re going to constitute our group,” Le Pen said with a smile.
UKIP’s leader has consistently ruled out an alliance with the National Front. Instead, he said he wants “to find a group of people that we think are part of our political family with views that are consistent with classical liberal democracy.”
Though united by the aversion to all things EU, far-right parties like Le Pen’s want to have a strong voice in the European legislature, if only as a pulpit to complain about topics such as the trade bloc’s economic and immigration policies and the usurpation of national sovereignty from member states.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.