Far-right parties including the Front National and Dutch Freedom Party met on Wednesday (28 May) to discuss forming a new group in the European Parliament.
France’s Marine Le Pen told reporters in Brussels that “we’re going to do our very best to avoid any progress being made in the European Parliament.” Le Pen said she would form a vocal opposition to the socialist and centre-right majority. “They are concerned,” she added.
Le Pen met with bosses of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the French National Front (FN), the Belgian Flemish Interest (VB) the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Italian Northern League (LN), all of which appeared at a press conference afterwards. But the power balance is clear; her FN dominates the group with 24 MEPs.
“We showed a formidable unity of our movement, I believe,” said Le Pen, referring to last week’s European elections, where the parties present at the press conference won 38 seats in total. Other Eurosceptic parties also gained ground in other countries.
The Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, said: “The whole demonisation, that was done by other politicians and by the press and media, has appeared ineffective.”
“If you wonder what the character of this group is, I would describe it as a group of parties that fight for sovereignty […] and against the Europhiles so over-represented in Brussels, today,” he added.
“I am very proud to be sitting here, at the table of the alliance for hope,” said Matteo Salvini, MEP for the Italian Lega Nord party.
“Marine Le Pen is an iconic figure for the new Europe,” added the secretary-general of the Austrian FPÖ party, Harald Vilimsky.
‘Discretion’ masks uncertainty
Le Pen and her allies are confident that the group will be formed but analysts have argued that the parties on the right side of the spectrum might have difficulties reaching the threshold necessary to qualify as a group.
To form a group in the EU Parliament, parties must have a minimum of 25 seats in total and be represented in at least seven member states. The mooted group has enough seats but is still on the hunt for two member parties of different countries.
“Obviously we’re not going to tell you about what is going on because negotiations are ongoing and they need discretion,” said Le Pen. “Let us have that discretion and we’ll announce a group in some weeks time.”
When asked after the conference whether the group has a name yet, Geert Wilders said they didn’t.
‘I’m sorry, Nigel, but we will form this group’
The group has been dubbed the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF) by media and would be the second faction on the right, next to the group led by Nigel Farage’s UKIP, Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD).
Noticeably absent from the press conference were the Sweden Democrats, another eurosceptic party that won seats in the EU elections. Despite their early enthusiasm for the group, they announced on Tuesday (27 May) that they’d rather cooperate with Farage’s EFD group.
Le Pen said: “Farage is the head of his group and would like to stay the head of his group. But, I’m sorry, Nigel, we are creating our own. And we won’t prevent Farage from creating his group.”
There will be 66 MEPs from parties totally new to Brussels in the next European Parliament. These parties are up for grabs and are being hunted by existing groups keen to meet their threshold.
But observers have also questioned the stability of the future alliance of Wilders and Le Pen. “The greatest threat of their cooperation, I believe, is if one of the parties makes a comment on Islam or immigration that is attacked in the press,” Marley Morris, of UK based think tank Counterpoint told EurActiv earlier.
“Other members could be politically pressured to kick them out of the group. That’s when there is a potential for collapse.”
This morning, the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo was spotted in Brussels, reportedly to meet with Nigel Farage in Brussels to discuss the possibility of working together in the next five years. Grillo won 17 seats in Sunday’s elections, but is significantly more left-wing than Nigel Farage. They share a rejection of the EU, however, and are both arch-populists.
Farage told EurActiv that he and Grillo have “said warm things about each other” in the past, but declined to confirm whether they would work together. Sources said the meeting was merely set up to test the water between the two.
Eurosceptic parties around Europe have shown their willingness to act on a European level. The controversial Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders and leader of the extreme-right Front national in France, Marine Le Pen, have led the initiative to form a new group in the European Parliament, together with like-minded parties.
Other parties, including the British UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Danish Popular Party, rejected outright the proposition.
Eurosceptic political parties are blossoming in many European countries, but their backgrounds and causes are very different. Analysts have argued that even though the next Parliament could have a much higher number of eurosceptic, even populist MEPs, they have a smaller chance of forming a coherent bloc.