Far-right parties seek common strategy for EU election

Georgina Prodhan
November 15, 2013

By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA (Reuters) - Representatives of far-right parties from five EU nations tried to build a common strategy on Friday for European Parliament elections next May when their anti-immigrant message is expected to bolster their support.

The populist parties hope to create a new political group within the parliament after the elections, capitalizing on what polls suggest is rising voter frustration with mainstream politics and the European Union.

The politicians from France's National Front, Italy's Northern League, the Sweden Democrats and Belgium's Vlaams Belang were hosted in Vienna by Austria's Freedom Party (FPO), which won 20 percent in a national election in September.

"We want a cooperation of constructive, positive, patriotic forces in Europe," FPO parliamentarian Norbert Hofer told Reuters by telephone during a break in the meeting.

Europe's nationalist parties have long struggled to form long-lasting alliances, but Hofer said the five had a powerful common starting point because they all wanted to strengthen the power of individual EU member states against Brussels.

"The patriotic forces must work with one another, not against one another," he said, adding that they were not for a break-up of the bloc but did discuss options such as dividing the common euro currency into a northern and a southern euro.

The leaders of the Dutch Freedom Party and the French National Front, Geert Wilders and Marine le Pen, held a rare joint news conference in The Hague on Wednesday to call for like-minded European parties to unite.

COMMON GRIEVANCES

Unemployment and economic grievances have combined with suspicion of European integration, Islam and multiculturalism to propel the popularity of the far right across the continent, from Greece to France and the Nordic countries.

At least 25 members from a minimum of seven countries are needed to form a group in the European Parliament, a status that entitles its members to EU funds for meetings and publicity as well as more office space and support staff.

Britain's Eurosceptic UK Independence Party has so far rebuffed calls to join such a group, while the fledgling group itself rejects more extreme right-wing parties such as Hungary's Jobbik or Greece's Golden Dawn.

Hofer, whose party continually struggles to distance itself from allegations of anti-Semitism in Austria - where a 200,000-strong Jewish population was wiped out in the Holocaust - said anti-Semitic parties would not be tolerated by the group.

"We could never want or be able to work with a party in which there is anti-Semitism," he said.

Hofer was reported last week as having called for a watering-down of Austria's Verbotsgesetz, a law passed in 1947 that bans the Nazi Party and aims to prevent a revival of Nazism in the Alpine country annexed by Hitler in 1938.

On Friday, he said the reports were inaccurate and that he had merely questioned when Austria's democracy would be mature enough to no longer require such a law. "It would be nice if we didn't need it, but we do," he said.

Mainstream European parties are increasingly concerned about the rise of far-right populists.

On a visit to Germany on Thursday, Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta told his hosts that stereotyping Italians as "lazy" or Germans as "selfish" would boost support for populists in the 2014 European Parliament vote.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)