By Thomas Escritt and Anthony Deutsch
Eurosceptics Geert Wilders of the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen of France called on Wednesday for like-minded parties across Europe to create a new political group within the European Parliament after 2014 assembly elections.
The move, unveiled at a rare joint news conference in the Dutch political capital The Hague, is a bid to capitalise on what polls suggest is rising voter frustration with mainstream politics and the European Union ahead of the May vote.
But Europe’s nationalist parties have long struggled to form long-lasting alliances, and the call was quickly rebuffed by Britain’s Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). At least 25 members are needed to form a group in the EU assembly and at least one-quarter of the EU’s 28 states must be represented.
“We are working together against the fact that Brussels is deciding everything,” Wilders told reporters.
“We will liberate Europe from the monster of Brussels.”
Le Pen described the EU as a “powerful system which has thrown our peoples into slavery” and argued that parties such as her anti-immigrant National Front were no longer being viewed as pariahs by voters.
“The day when patriotic movements were divided, sometimes in fear of being demonised, is long gone,” she said.
Winning the status of a political group in the European Parliament entitles its members to more office space and support staff as well as EU funds to pay for meetings and publicity. Figures for 2013 showed that the biggest groups received more than one million euros each.
Unemployment across Europe, widely blamed by voters as linked to EU-backed austerity programmes aimed at countering rising national debt, has led to growing disenchantment with the EU, as tracked by surveys such as a poll of 7,600 people released in May by the Pew Research Center.
Le Pen’s trip to The Hague and visit to Dutch parliament – where the two politicians were greeted by demonstrators with placards saying “No room for racism” – is part of a domestic strategy to make her party more acceptable to French voters.
Le Pen’s National Front was shown in a poll last month winning more votes than any other French party in European parliament elections next May.
Wilders’ Freedom Party, which slumped in last year’s general election and has lost several members because of infighting, has now bounced back to take the lead in Dutch opinion polls.
However political analysts are doubtful that an alliance of Eurosceptic or far-right parties can get off the ground. The anti-mass immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) of Nigel Farage reaffirmed it would not ally with Le Pen’s party.
“It’s cut and dry. There isn’t going to be any alliance with the Front National and we’re not going to sit in the same parliamentary group as them in the European Parliament,” a UKIP spokesman said.
Le Pen, a tough-talking former lawyer, invited Wilders to Paris earlier this year to persuade him to join the European Alliance for Freedom, an existing group of Eurosceptic and nationalist parties.
So far, his party has not joined the grouping, which includes Belgium’s far-right Vlaams Belang and Austria’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party.
Le Pen has sought to rid her party of overt neo-Nazis and racists and has distanced herself from the anti-Semitic remarks of her father. But a string of scandals over racism among party members has in recent weeks embarrassed the party.
A poll by Dutch current affairs program Een Vandaag found that 75 percent of Freedom Party voters nonetheless approved of Wilders meeting Le Pen, who he introduced to reporters as a friend.
Wilders, who is anti-Islam, has been funded by The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israeli think tank based in Philadelphia: the group funded Wilders’ legal defence in 2010 and 2011 against Dutch charges of inciting racial hatred.