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France’s far right forms bloc in European Parliament (Politico)

The National Front claims it now has the votes to build its own group, boosting its reach in the body.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party said Monday it had enough support to form a group in the European Parliament, a long-awaited move that will boost the group’s influence in the assembly.

The anti-European Union, anti-immigration party said in a statement it was to formally announce the creation of its group, named “Europe of Nations and Freedoms,” in a press conference Tuesday hosted by party chief Le Pen in Brussels.

By forming a group, the National Front (FN) will get more speaking time during the plenary sessions and more staff. The party will also be better positioned to get its members on parliamentary committees, where groups exert control over access.

The FN has 23 deputies in Parliament, just short of the 25 needed to form a group, but the real challenge has been the recruitment of deputies from a minimum of seven nations needed to form a group. The statement did not specify the names or nationalities of the deputies the party had recruited to meet that requirement. Le Pen’s parliamentary adviser declined to name the additional MEPs.

But parliamentary sources said the group will include 36 MEPs from several parties, including one from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and one from Hungarian far-right party Jobbik, as well as deputies from the Netherlands’ PVV, Austria’s FPÖ, Italy’s Lega Nord and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang.

The co-chairs, according to sources, will be Le Pen and Marcel De Graaff of the Netherlands. The vice chairs will be Harald Vilimsky of Austria, Matteo Salvini of Italy, Michal Marusik of Poland and Janice Atkinson of Britain, who was previously sidelined by UKIP following an alleged expenses scandal. The treasurer will be Gerolf Annemans of Belgium. The secretary general will be Ludovic de Danne, a Le Pen parliamentary adviser.

Previously, parliamentary sources in another Euroskeptic party group, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), had told POLITICO that the FN was in talks to recruit Polish deputies.

“A bad day for Europe,” said Herbert Reul, an MEP who serves as whip of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party.

Responding to news that Atkinson had formed the group, Catherine Bearder, an Alliance of Liberals and Democrats parliamentarian who comes from the same South East region of Britain as she does, said: ‘This is a disgraceful decision, by a disgraced MEP. The fact that the South East region now has a representative from this appalling political grouping is deeply disturbing. Janice Atkinson should do the honorable thing and resign, not prop up a group of Europe’s most hateful and far-right parties”

Coming a year after Le Pen swept nearly a quarter of votes in France’s European Parliament elections, beating all other mainstream parties, the announcement puts an end to a paradoxical situation for the FN: What was probably Europe’s most popular far-right party had next to no power or influence in the European Parliament and almost no ability to weigh on EU affairs.

Le Pen had announced shortly after the election in May 2014 that the FN would very quickly form a group. But the promise didn’t hold as Le Pen, who is politically opposed to UKIP leader Nigel Farage, was kept out of the Euroskeptic EFDD group and failed to recruit deputies from enough nations to form a separate group for a year.

Source: POLITICO

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