After an extraordinarily strong showing in a bellwether French election, the anti-immigrant National Front party (FN) is looking to take its show on the road in Europe by forming an alliance with other far-right parties around Europe. And the first stop is the Netherlands.
Ahead of EU parliamentary elections next spring, FN leader Marine Le Pen is expected to travel to Holland next month to meet with Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV), about forming a united platform in Brussels to counter mainstream EU politics.
But while the far right has gained ground in some pockets of Europe lately, inspiring the ambitions of Le Pen and Mr. Wilders, their enterprise has been tried before and failed, in large part because of the contradiction inherent in nationalists trying to work together across borders.
“It's difficult for a group of nationalists to come together on an internationalist platform,” says Hugo Brady, senior research fellow of the Center for European Reform in Brussels. "The minute they start doing that kind of stuff, they start resembling the mainstream parties that they claim to despise."
A far-right surge?
Over the weekend Laurent Lopez of the FN, which fights against the “Islamization of France” but also recently rebranded itself as an antiglobalization force, won a seat in the Var regional council in France with 53.9 percent of the vote in a result that's seen as an indicator of the national mood. And a recent opinion poll in France showed that the anti-immigrant FN could win 24 percent of the vote in EU elections, nearly four times its haul in the previous cycle in 2009.
That has led Socialist French President François Hollande to warn of “regression and paralysis” in Europe.
Le Pen and Wilders reportedly met in April in France, and Wilders confirmed November's visit by Le Pen in a television interview.
“She is a charismatic politician," he said according to Dutch News. “Parties like the Front National and the PVV can force the Europhile elite to lower their tone a little through the European elections.”
“We all want to do whatever we can to turn the forthcoming European elections into a Europe-wide electoral landslide against Brussels,” Wilders said to the Financial Times.
The European elections in May could see many extreme parties – on both the right and left – find seats in the parliament. That includes the FN and Wilders' PVV, but also the UK Independence Party of Nigel Farage.
“[An alliance] could prove a rallying point for other populists feeling that there is a Europe-wide movement against the orthodoxy of the last 50 years,” says Mr. Brady.
Nationalism gone international
Talk between the FN and PVV is not new. The right has sought to forge alliances at the EU level since its inception. And while many parties are united on issues like immigration and the very existence of the EU, when it comes to forging policies and party platforms their efforts have often collapsed, hindered by their domestic constituencies.
The far right has sought to join forces at a European level since the early 1950s, and never with success, says James Shields of Aston University in the UK, an expert on the French far right. In the '70s, the “Euro-Right” sought to respond to “Eurocommunism,” he says.
In the mid-1980s, the FN in the European parliament, with Italian and Greek nationalist counterparts, attempted the “European Right” group under FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ms. Le Pen's father. In 2007, they tried again with the “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty” group within the EU parliament, but it too broke in internal disagreement.
These groups wouldn't have the power “to derail Europe.” But they could influence the direction of specific policies, like asylum and integration, if they are able to gain representation in parliamentary committees, says Dr. Shields.
Already some groups on the right have reportedly rejected entering into a formal alliance with the FN and the PVV. And even if they were to form a cross-national group, their success would likely be limited.
"What unites these parties will be primarily their anti-EU stances. But beyond that common negative bond, they come from different political cultures with differing domestic political agendas,” Shields says.
“A binding alliance involving the pursuit of genuinely common interests has never been achieved by such parties at the European level.”