The last time the far right tried to form a group of its own in the European parliament, it ended badly. “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty”, as it was called, was formed in January 2007. Its main constituents were the French National Front, the Flemish Interest from Belgium and extreme nationalist parties in Bulgaria and Romania.
It makes sense for stray nationalists and independents to try to form a parliamentary group of their own, since they then qualify for additional funding and committee privileges. But this one lasted less than a year. It ended after Italy’s Alessandra Mussolini (grand-daughter of the dictator) said that Romanians were “habitual lawbreakers”, prompting a walkout by the Romanian MPs.
Now the extremists are trying again. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has met with Geert Wilders, from the Dutch Party of Freedom, to announce the creation of a new nationalist, anti-immigrant and eurosceptic alliance to contest next year’s European Union elections.
The two represent slightly different strands of the far right (a topic I elaborated on a few years ago). The National Front can fairly be described as neo-fascist, whereas Wilders has generally steered away from conservative social policies in favor of an emphasis on anti-Muslim sentiment. But evidently they have found enough common ground to be going on with.
The reports are focusing on the eurosceptic element, but there is already a eurosceptic group in the parliament – “Europe of Freedom and Democracy”, whose main contingents are the UK Independence Party and Italy’s Northern League. There is even a more moderate group, “European Conservatives and Reformists”, to which Britain’s Conservative Party belongs.
Le Pen and Wilders would love to attract the likes of UKIP to their banner, but there’s no likelihood of that happening. As the BBC’s Chris Morris explains, UKIP leader Nigel Farage “has already made it clear that he will play no part in the Wilders/Le Pen initiative – he has no intention of being tarred by an extremist brush.”
Indeed, an ostentatious refusal to link up with Le Pen would probably be an electoral boost to UKIP, adding credence to its claims that it is not the band of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” that David Cameron once called it.
Conversely, Le Pen and Wilders will probably not want to link up with UKIP’s far-right rival, the more openly neo-Nazi British National Party, or for that matter Greece’s Golden Dawn. The new group is more likely to seek out the likes of Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Flemish Interest (both currently non-aligned) or Denmark’s
Progress People’s Party (currently part of EFD).
To gain official status, it will need a minimum of 25 MPs from at least seven different countries, so it will be an interesting attempt to watch. In the short term, xenophobic anti-Europeanism may be a rising trend. But in the longer term there are serious obstacles to trying to keep a group like this together.
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Moderates coalesce fairly naturally, if not always harmoniously. Even the far left has a theoretical commitment to internationalism, which, while often betrayed in practice, at least provides something of a basis for co-operation. But the far right has no such commitment even in theory: irreconcilable hostility between nations is in its DNA.
Part of the traditional equipment of being on the French far right, for example, is hatred of the Dutch (and vice versa). Le Pen and Wilders personally are sufficiently adult to suppress any such tendency, but their followers may not be so easily convinced. Add some Slavic parties into the mix and it will become even more combustible.