French far-right hopes to rebuild EU Parliament group


French nationalist party ‘Front National’ launched its campaign for the upcoming EU elections last weekend (14-15 March), showcasing its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in an attempt to gain more votes and re-establish a far-right group in the European Parliament. EURACTIV France reports.

Around 800 people attended the Front National’s (FN) European convention in Arras, northern France, during which Le Pen spoke about the financial crisis and “euro-globalisation,” “decadent Europe” and the perceived threat that the EU is being “submerged by immigration”.

Speaking at the convention, FN candidates for the European election vowed to block any additional transfer of competence from national to European level.

Jean-Michel Dubois, a candidate in the Ile-de-France (Paris) region, denounced the European Central Bank as “incompetent and suicidal” and called for the return of a “sovereign monetary policy”.

Regarding plans to establish a common European defence policy, a project supported by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Le Pen warned of the “annihilation of the diplomatic capacity of France”. “The project of the European Union consists of establishing a bureaucratic dictatorship through a European super-state,” he warned during his hour-long speech.

The 80-year-old FN leader will head the list in South-East France, whereas his daughter Marine is a candidate in the north-west region (EURACTIV 09/02/09).

Reviving the far-right group in the European Parliament

Amid financial and leadership difficulties, the Front National is seeking to garner support among French voters in an attempt to rebuild the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) political group in the European Parliament. 

Created in January 2007 and chaired by Bruno Gollnisch, an FN parliamentarian, ITS ceased to exist on 14 November 2007, after members from the Greater Romania Party withdrew from the group. The move followed remarks made by Italian MEP Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, which they found insulting (EURACTIV 15/11/07). 

But Gollnisch claims he can resurrect the group, saying he is in regular contact with the British National Party (BNP), Bulgarian party Ataka (Attack) and the Austria’s Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Austrian Freedom Party). 

According to Gollnisch, the reinstatement of ITS is “on a very good track,” but he did not reveal how he intends to construct the group. Under new parliamentary rules, a political group needs to have a minimum of 25 members representing seven different countries (up from 20 and five respectively).

Other nationalist candidates in France

The FN is not alone in the family of French nationalist eurosceptics. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan heads the movement Debout la République, while Philippe de Villiers and Frédéric Nihous are now allies under the banner of Libertas, the party which successfully led the campaign against the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland (EURACTIV 11/03/09). Moreover, the Parti de la France, founded by Carl Lang, a former member of the FN, will present candidates in at least two districts.

In fact, some arguments put forward on Sunday by Le Pen are very similar to those presented by the Movement pour la France, a party headed by Philippe de Villiers. Both vehemently oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU and have expressed fears that Europe is planning to slap a “dangerous product” label on Camembert cheese.

However, divisions among French nationalist parties are never far around the corner. The president of the FN openly criticised de Villiers for his alliance with Libertas, labelling its leader Declan Ganley as “a locomotive millionaire suspected to be an American official”.

Front National candidates for the 2009 European elections:

  • Ile-de-France: Jean-Michel Dubois, Marie-Christine Arnautu.
  • North-West: Marine Le Pen, Wallerant de Saint-Just.
  • East: Bruno Gollnisch, Sophie Montel.
  • South-East: Jean-Marie Le Pen, Lydia Schénardi.
  • South-West: Louis Aliot, Marie-Christine Boutonnet.
  • West: Brigitte Neveux, Jean-William Félix.
  • Centre: Patrick Bourson, Anne Faurot.
  • Overseas departments: Patrick Le Guillou, Huguette Fatna. 

'Front National' leader Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked France and Europe when he reached the second stage run-off in France's presidential race in 2002, riding on a wave of popular resentment against lax immigration policies. But he came a mere fourth in the 2007 poll, and his party suffered a big defeat in the subsequent Parliament elections, when it was unable to send a single MP to the assembly.

Since then, the  Front National has been embroiled in financial difficulties and divided over the question of its future leadership. In September last year, Le Pen announced he would step down as party leader and put forward his daughter, Marine, as his successor. But the nomination was contested internally, leading to bitter infighting among party members and throwing the party's existence into doubt.

  • 7 June 2009: EU elections in France.

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