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.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Kim Will­sher Will­sher is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

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.

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