French far right seeks Ukip support in Europe but is snubbed by Nigel Farage
John Lichfield has been The Independent's man in Paris since 1997, covering French news. Before that, he was the paper's Foreign Editor and he has also worked in Brussels and Washington. In 1999, he was the UK press Awards Foreign Reporter of the year.
Sunday 04 May 2014
The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has threatened to block all new EU legislation if she leads a powerful nationalist block in Strasbourg after the European elections this month.
“We are going to prevent all further construction of Europe,” Ms Le Pen said.
In alliance with Austrian, Belgian and Dutch nationalists, she said that she expected to have a “blocking minority” which could reject “further austerity” and “further loss of power for France”.
Ms Le Pen’s National Front (FN) is predicted to come top, or a close second, in the French part of the European elections, giving her around 20 MEPs. She is already in loose alliance with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Europhobic parties in Austria, Belgium and Sweden.
She hopes to have enough members to create an official nationalist, Eurosceptic group in the parliament which would give her increased funds and better access to key committees. Whether such a group could actually block EU legislation is open to question.
Much will depend on her relations with the party which may provide the largest single national block of anti-European MEPs in the next parliament – Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (Ukip).
Once very friendly, the two most powerful nationalist leaders in Europe have fallen out in recent months. Their relations took a further turn for the worse today.
In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, Ms Le Pen said that Mr Farage was “lying” when he described her party as having racism and anti-Semitism “in its DNA”. She accused him of a “mean tactical manoeuvre” to maintain his own political influence in the European Parliament.
“His comments are just as fallacious, lying and defamatory as they are recent,” Ms Le Pen said.
“Mr Farage used to have rather friendly relations with us. I’m racking my brains to work out why he has changed tack. All that I can see is that it is a mean little tactical manoeuvre to try to hold on to the leadership [of the nationalists in Strasbourg] now that we are in a position to compete against him for it.”
Ms Le Pen was once a great admirer of Mr Farage’s. In an interview with The Independent in 2010, she described him as “impressive” and “charming”.
Relations began to break down last year when Ms Le Pen asked Ukip to join her in the “European alliance for freedom” of nationalist and Eurosceptic parties to fight a joint campaign in this month’s European elections.
Mr Farage refused. He has since on several occasions said that he does not wish to have close relations with Ms Le Pen’s party.
Since taking over from her father as FN leader in 2011, Ms Le Pen insists that she has driven extremist views out of the party.
The Ukip leader’s position is partly driven by British domestic considerations. An alliance with the FN – founded in the 1970s partly by anti-Semites and sympathisers of the Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis – would expose him to attack by other British political parties.
Ms Le Pen is convinced, however, that Mr Farage wants to dispute with her the de facto leadership of the anti-European right after this month’s elections. At present, the FN has only three MEPs, including Marine Le Pen and the party’s founder, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If opinion polls are correct, she may have as many as 20 MEPs in the next parliament.
To form an official group, she needs 25 members from seven different countries. The numbers should not be a problem; the requirement for national variety may be – especially if Ukip holds on to its existing loose alliance with hard-right members from Eastern Europe.
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