Le Pen seeks to rally far-right allies for European elections

Polish leader of political party KNP Michal Marusik (2-L), Czech leader of far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy party Tomio Okamura (3-L), French General secretary of the far-right Front National (FN) party Nicolas Bay (4-L) and French far-right political party National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen (5-R) and Bulgaria's Volya leader Vesselin Mareshli (4-R) attend the 'Nations Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom' (MENL) rally in Nice, southern France, 1 May 2018. [Sebastien Nogier/EPA/EFE]

France’s Marine Le Pen led a rally of Europe’s far-right in the southern French city of Nice on Tuesday (1 May), to celebrate recent gains on the continent and devise a battle plan for next year’s European elections.

The National Front leader is hoping to bounce back from her defeat in last year’s presidential vote in the May 2018 elections to the European Parliament.

But there were key absences from the Nice meeting of parties from the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) grouping, revealing cracks in Le Pen’s bid to create a grand alliance of Europe’s far right.

“Europe is a good idea but the European Union is killing it,” Le Pen told the rally on May Day, which was attended by the secretary general of Austria’s far-right FPÖ, Harald Vilimsky, whose party entered government in December.

“The possibility of obtaining a majority to change Europe is not so far-fetched. It’s up to us to build this historic victory,” she urged.

After setbacks in France and the Netherlands in the first half of 2017 eurosceptic parties have chalked up major gains in several countries around Europe.

In Germany, the anti-immigration AfD in Germany garnered almost 13% of the vote in September’s election; in Hungary, nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was re-elected to a third term with a thumping majority last month; and in Italy, the eurosceptic League party is vying to form a government. Although ideologically close to the far right, Orbán is officially affiliated to the centre-right EPP.

League leader Matteo Salvini did not attend Tuesday’s rally but sent a video message of support instead.

Another star invitee, Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, also failed to show up.

A senior FN official, Nicolas Bay, told AFP that Wilders “had urgent business that required him to stay in the Netherlands”.

Among those who attended were representatives of the Polish Congress of the New Right, the Czech Republic’s SPD party and Bulgaria’s Volya.

The Congress of the New Right is a Eurosceptic force founded in 2011 by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who was ousted in 2015. The force is now led by Stanisław Żółtek, an MEP.

The Czech SPD (Freedom and Direct Democracy, led by Tomio Okamura) has called for the country to quit the EU, pushing for a referendum similar to when Britons voted for Brexit in 2016.

Bulgaria’s Volya party is led by businessman Vesselin Mareshki, sometimes called the ‘Bulgarian Trump’. Mareshki owns a chain of petrol stations and pharmacies and succeeds in selling fuel and medicines at prices well below the rest of the competition. Mareshki positions himself as oppositions, but in fact supports the Borissov government.

Le Pen has been struggling to recover from her stinging defeat by centrist Emmanuel Macron in the run-off of last year’s presidential election.

The FN leader took 36% of the vote — a historic performance for the party which nonetheless fell short of expectations.

Drawing the lessons of her failure, she has softened her policies on Europe which had scared off many voters.

She has ditched her unpopular proposal to quit the eurozone and organise a referendum on leaving the European Union.

Instead, she favours transforming the EU into a club of nations that work together independently.


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