Le Pen’s new EU Parliament group to scoop €17.5 million of public money

Geert Wilders (right) with Marine Le Pen. [Wilders/Twitter]

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, will today (16 June) announce the creation of Europe of Nations and Freedoms, a new far-right European Parliament group that will qualify for up to €17.5 million of EU money over the next four years.

Le Pen failed to form a group after the European elections last year, despite a surge in support for far-right parties. Her party topped the French vote, returning 24 MEPs.

At least 25 MEPs from seven different countries are needed to form a political group.The new group will include Geert Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom, the Freedom Party of Austria, Italy’s Lega Nord, and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang.

Le Pen did not reveal which MEPs from which countries have joined that core but that news is expected later today. At least two MEPs from two different countries not already linked to the alliance are needed to form the faction.

Parliament sources told EURACTIV that at least one of the MEPs are thought to be from Poland’s Congress of the New Right. EURACTIV understands that Hungary’s Jobbik party will not be joining because they are too extreme. Some press reports claimed a UK Independence Party member could be joining.

Le Pen announced last night that she would hold a press conference to unveil the faction. Wilders also hinted at an important announcement, according to Dutch media reports.

She said on Twitter, “Tomorrow in Brussels, I will announce the creation of our group, Europe of Nations and Freedom.”

According to research by think tank Open Europe, based on 38 MEPs, the new group could apply for:

  • an annual grant of €2,974,718.39 to set up and run the new group;
  • a grant for a linked pan-European political party;
  • a grant for a linked political foundation or think tank;
  • amounting to €4,442,759.83 every year;
  • or about €17.5 million over the remaining four years of Parliament’s term.

Le Pen had ruled out an alliance with the Congress after the European elections. The Congress’ then-leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke is a racist Holocaust denier.

He infamously described said the difference between rape and consensual sex as “very subtle” and was fined €3,040 for using racist language in the Parliament.

“His [Korwin-Mikke’s] remarks, his political views ran contrary to our values,” she said at the time. But Korwin-Mikke was replaced as leader in January this year by MEP Michal Marusik.

Congress MEP Robert Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz saved the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group in October. He propped up the EFDD after Latvia MEP Iveta Grigule left.

The “loan” meant that Nigel Farage’s group represented enough countries to continue as a group and could distance itself from the Congress’ then- leader Korwin-Mikke.

Iwaszkiewicz joined the EFDD as an individual rather than as a Congress member. The other two MEPs in the Congress, one of whom was Marusik, did not join the group.

>> Read: MEP from party led by racist could save Farage’s EFDD.

The Lithuanian Order and Justice party had one MEP, Rolandas Paksas. Paksas has repeatedly declared his loyalty to Farage and has in the past denied rumours of his joining up with Le Pen.

>> Read: Lithuanians vow to stick by Farage and EFD

But if Paksas, or Iwaszkiewicz, jumps ship, the EFDD, the group would collapse as it would not have seven member state representatives.

An MEP from the UK Independence Party was mooted as a possibility by some sources. UKIP sources appeared unaware of any impeding defection when contacted by EURACTIV, describing the new group as a case as “a wolf that has cried once too often”.

Sources suggested it could be MEP Janice Atkinson, who is suspended from the Eurosceptic party for expenses fraud. That could not be confirmed by EURACTIV before publication. Other rumours suggested a member of Germany’s Alternativ Für Deutschland (AfD) could defect, but this could not be confirmed.

>> Read: UKIP MEP suspended for expenses fraud

Funding rules

European Parliament rules for parliamentary group and party funding do not prevent money being awarded to far-right groups.

The grant cannot be used to pay for campaign costs for referendums and elections, other than European elections, direct or indirect funding of national parties or candidates, or for meeting debts or interest payments.

Groups “must observe the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human right and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.” Pressure is likely to increase to find a way of enforcing that rule after today’s announcement.

Pan-European political parties will be subject to stricter funding rules from 2018 , but that does not include parliamentary groups.

Public money and greater say vital

Vlaams Belang leader Gerolf Annemans told EURACTIV in June last year that public money was vital to build on the success of the far right after the European elections.

“If we want the staffing, parliamentary assistance, and so on, resources are needed,” he said.

>>Read: After election success far right groups line up for EU money

Parliamentary groups can appoint their own secretariat staffed with their own people, instead of relying on the European Parliament’s in-house office for non-affiliated parties.

Groups usually also receive an allocation of points, which can be used to select MEPs to appoint to influential positions within European Parliament committees.

Le Monde’s journalist in charge of covering the extreme right reported on Twitter that Jean-Marie Le Pen will not be part of his daughter’s group.

At least 25 MEPs from seven different countries are need to form a political group, which then qualifies for funding and more influence in the European Parliament.

Marine Le Pen failed to form a group after the European elections last year, despite a surge in support for far right parties. Her party topped the French vote, returning 24 MEPs.

But last night she announced that she had finally succeeded in meeting the threshold.

  • 16 June: Brussels press conference to announce new far right parliamentary group

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