Le Pen and Farage battle for partners to form group

Marine Le Pen & Nigel Farage [Global Panorama/Flickr; European Parliament/Flickr]

Marine Le Pen & Nigel Farage [Global Panorama/Flickr; European Parliament/Flickr]

Marine Le Pen held a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (28 May) to sketch out the parties that will join her future faction in the EU Parliament. But Le Pen faces competition from Nigel Farage’s EFD group to reach the threshold of member parties.

The leader of the French Front national (FN) headed to Brussels in a victorious mood. Marine Le Pen won the EU elections in France, topping the conservative UMP and crushing the ruling socialist PS.

Next stop is Brussels. On Wednesday (28 May), Le Pen met with a number of parties from other member states to set up a faction in the European Parliament. “We invited other parties, we’ll see who will be present,” Ludovic De Danne, EU affairs advisor to Le Pen, told EURACTIV.

The EAF would become the second group on the far-right side of the spectrum. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has a faction in place with a number of other smaller parties, called the Europe for Freedom and Democracy group (EFD).

Le Pen’s future faction, or ‘group’, is dubbed the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF). Core parties already include the French Front National (FN; 24 seats) the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV; 4), the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ; 4) and the Belgian Flemish Interest (VB; 1).

The criteria to form such a group include a minimum of 25 and a minimum of 7 EU member states represented in the group. The former won’t be a problem for Le Pen and Wilders, but the latter could be tricky. The group only has MEPs from four different countries confirmed.

Tug-of-war for new members

When Le Pen and Wilders announced their plans earlier, the Italian Lega Nord was already a highly probable member. The Italian party won 5 seats in Sunday’s elections. They would leave the Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group to join Wilders’ and Le Pen’s alliance.

Another party that was namedropped before is the Sweden Democrat (SD) party. But the party announced on Tuesday (27 May) that it would prefer to join UKIP’s EFD group.

Another presumed member, the Slovak National Party (SNS) was in the exploratory meetings of the EAF, earlier this year, but failed to win a seat in the elections.

According to Marley Morris, researcher at Counterpoint, “the EAF has five member countries pretty much sewn up. But the other two are looking a bit unlikely.”

Meanwhile, the other group on the right, the EFD, will be on the lookout for new partners too. With UKIP winning 24 seats, last Thursday, the threshold number of 25 won’t be an issue either. But EFD member parties in Italy, Slovenia, France, Bulgaria and Poland failed to get seats in last week’s elections.

It leaves the group with representatives in Denmark, the UK, The Netherlands and Lithuania. They’ll have to look for at least three partners in other member states to meet the criteria.

“We’re not competing [with the EFD],” said De Danne of FN. We would even prefer forming a large group, together with UKIP.” The Dutch populist, Geert Wilders, also endorsed the idea to join forces with UKIP in the past. But the Brits have consistently responded that they wouldn’t team up with extreme-right parties.

The reluctant joiners

The EU elections, last week, brought in a number of new parties, not yet affiliated with any group. In total, 66 MEPs are still on the lookout.

“There is a whole bag of parties that are not affiliated at the moment, who could potentially join our group,” De Danne expressed his hope that the EAF would attract some of these.

But many of these parties will align with factions they’re most comfortable with. And that could pose problems for the EAF group, thinks Morris: “My sense is that a lot of these parties aren’t necessarily candidates: they include left-wing parties, animal rights parties and so on. Count all of those out, and there is less potential for the EAF or the EFD.”

Paradoxically, the EFD could have an easier time convincing new parties than the EAF. “It will be less stigmatised” than the Le Pen-Wilders alliance, the analyst argued.

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in Germany, for instance, already denounced any partnership with Le Pen as it hopes to shake off their reputation of a right-wing populist party, euractiv.de reported. The party hopes to join the conservative ECR group, but could eventually end up with UKIP in the EFD group, too.

The Italian Movimento 5 Stelle and its frontman Beppe Grillo won as much as 17 seats. They too could consider the EFD group, but will certainly pass on a partnership with the Le Pen.

The Czech liberal populists of Svobodní won one seat and could join Farage’s EFD. The Finns party which won two seats now lingers at the EFD, too.

The Sweden Democrats, who were at the table in earlier discussions of the European Alliance for Freedom, now don’t seem too sure to join the group too: party leader Jimmie Åkesson told Swedish press yesterday they would prefer to work with the Danish People’s Party and UKIP, meaning they would jump ship to the EFD.

Barred: extremer than the extreme-right

Eurosceptic and populist parties flourished in last week’s elections. But the new MEPs that will take their seat for the next five years also include a number of ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi and fascist parties.

Greece’s Golden Dawn won 3 seats on Sunday. It has been trying to get the attention of the French FN party, hoping to forge ties. But Marine Le Pen publicly denounces any possible cooperation at this point.

The German National Democratic Party (NPD) will enter the EU Parliament, a party that flirts with the national-socialist ideology. Its future MEP, Udo Voigt, once called Adolf Hitler “a great statesman”.

The Hungarian Jobbik party,too, won three seats. The Polish New Right party won as much as four seats. The New Right’s leader previously argued to take away women’s voting rights.

As the UK Independence Party rejects the Front National on the basis that it is too extremist, and the FN itself is gradually trying to clean up its protracting anti-Semitic, radical image, this list of fringe parties on the right of the far-right will end up as non-attached members in the next EU Parliament.

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.

  • 28 May: Meeting of the European Alliance for Freedom parties in Brussels
  • 6 June: Target date to form new groups in the European Parliament
  • 1-3 July: First plenary session of the newly constituted European Parliament

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