French lead a new bloc of far right
Europe of Nations and Freedoms members in European Parliament share concern about immigration and the influence of Islam.
PARIS — France’s National Front announced Tuesday that it had formed a new far-right bloc in the European Parliament that will qualify for nearly $20 million in funding over the next four years.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, said the group would be called Europe of Nations and Freedoms.
Her new allies share Le Pen’s desire to curb immigration and the inf luence of Islam in Europe, a concern that critics have described as xenophobic. They include the Netherlands’ and Austria’s Freedom parties, Italy’s Northern League and Flemish Interest of Belgium as well as lawmakers with the Polish Congress of the New Right.
At a news conference in Brussels, Le Pen described it as a “political strike force that will go far beyond our previous situation.” She said far-right parties such as the National Front had growing support in Europe.
“This group is the result of a year of efforts,” she said. “It’s good news for our countries, our people, our freedom.”
Geert Wilders, representing the Dutch Freedom Party, told reporters, “Today is D-day, it’s the beginning of our liberation.... I really believe today is a historical moment.
“We are the voice of the European resistance, we defend national identity, our prosperity and our sovereignty. This is an excellent day because we will gain influence in the European Parliament with the newly formed group.”
Wilders then addressed the European far right’s major concerns: immigration and Islam. “The timing is right. A catastrophe is coming to the European Union and Europe today,” he said. “One million people are trying to arrive from northern Africa and this mass immigration should be stopped.”
He said the group would fight the “Islamization” of the continent and “stand for our own national values.”
Besides funding, the group will get more speaking time during European Parliament sessions, more staff members and access to key posts, increasing its inf luence across the continent.
Reaction from more centrist European parties was dour. A German member of the European Parliament, Herbert Reul of the centerright Christian Democratic Union party, told journalists that it was a “bad day for Europe.”
European Parliament groups must have at least 25 members from at least seven countries.
Le Pen failed to form a group after the European elections last year even though there was a leap in support for far-right candidates across the European Union. In France, her party came in first with almost a quarter of the vote, gaining a total of 24 seats in the European Parliament.
Le Pen’s new group has signed on 36 members of the Parliament, more than half of them French. The National Front had been struggling to find a member from a seventh country. On Tuesday, Janice Atkinson, a European Parliament member from Britain who was expelled from her country’s right-wing UK Independent Party after questions over expense claims, announced that she was joining Europe of Nations and Freedoms.
Atkinson, who will become the group’s vice president, said it was a “historic day for all in Britain and across Europe who stand opposed to the European superstate.”
Before mustering wide support from like-minded politicians in other countries, the National Front, Europe’s most popular farright party, stood alone with no real power or influence in the European Parliament.
According to the think tank Open Europe, the new group can apply for an annual grant of more than $3 million for setup and operation costs, as well as nearly $5 million of European Union money annually that is allocated to political foundations or think tanks.
The money cannot be used to pay for electioneering costs or referendums, apart from European elections.
Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, the National Front founder who was suspended from the party after a major political and personal falling-out, will not be part of the bloc despite being a member of the European Parliament.
The UK Independent Party, led by Nigel Farage, succeeded in gaining the necessary support to form a group last year but refused to join forces with the National Front because of “prejudice and anti-Semitism” in the French party. His bloc is seen as a rival to Europe of Nations and Freedoms.