Far right MEPs form EU parliamentary group
Anti-EU MEPs have banded together to form a new parliamentary group.
French far-right MEP Marine Le Pen has formed a new parliamentary group called the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). She is joined in the new grouping by deputies from Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria and the UK, after Janice Atkinson - who was suspended from the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) following allegations of fraud - defected from parliament's Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group.
The rules state that a group must consist of MEPs from at least seven different member states, meaning that the ENF could stand on shaky ground if any of its members decided to leave.
Le Pen - leader of France's Front National (FN) party - said that this was "the result of a year's work, and of our strong will not to rush into questionable alliances, as have done other groups, to the detriment of their reputation".
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She underlined that, "the creation of this group is good news for our parties, but also for our countries, peoples and for freedom".
"I would especially like to thank [parliament president] Martin Schulz and parliament's administration who, by treating us like lesser MEPs and persecuting us administratively over the past year, gave us an energy boost to set up a strong, courageous, coherent and ambitious group […] that will fight with all its strength to defend our peoples", she added.
Deputies who do not belong to a group - 'non-attached' - are given less speaking time, are not usually considered for top positions within committees and, crucially, receive less funding.
Now, the ENF could be entitled to up to €20m of public money, despite its members being openly opposed to the European project and taxpayers' money funding it.
But Le Pen rejects this line of thinking, saying, "I find that argument quite scandalous, because it is not applied to the other political groups. The money that is given to parliamentary groups is not EU money, it is money from our voters and it's perfectly natural for our voters to fund the defence of their ideas and not that of their opponents'".
Groups are funded by parliament's budget, which itself is derived from the EU budget.
However, it is not the first time her and her party have gotten confused over the parliamentary budget. A number of FN assistants are currently being investigated for fraud, after it emerged their salaries were being paid out of the European parliament's budget, despite not performing tasks related to the EU.
When asked for her new group's position on the Mediterranean refugee crisis, Le Pen simply indicated that its members "are all opposed to mass migration", adding that she wanted to stop foreigners from entering France, despite earlier stating that, "when your group is called 'the party of nations and liberties', you respect liberties".
And, feeling generous, she stressed that, "our group is ready to welcome all of those who share our values".
Disgraced Ukip MEP Janice Atkinson - newly appointed vice-chair of the ENF - said this was "a historic day. We are uniting the seven nations against this European super-state".
She explained, "I have more in common with this group than the EFDD does with the Five-Star Movement, who opposed most of the votes that Ukip took and were 80 per cent against what we stand for".
After last year's elections, Le Pen had tried to form a group with Ukip leader Nigel Farage, but he had refused to associate with her. According to Atkinson, the pairing never occurred because "it was politically expedient not do so at home [back in the UK]".
And maybe in an attempt to provoke Farage, she confided that, "there are two women I've admired the most in politics. One is [former UK prime minister] Margaret Thatcher and I'm still a conservative at heart. […] And the other woman I've admired in politics over the years I have watched from afar, and
I've become greatly heartened by what she does in her own country. She is leading the offence against what happens in here".
The ENF will be co-presided by Marine Le Pen and Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) MEP Marcel De Graaff. PVV founder and leader Geert Wilders said, "today is D-day, it is the beginning of our liberation. […] All the people joining us from the different groups are the voice of the European resistance".
He promised that, "together will fight mass immigration and the islamisation of our continent. We want to once again be masters of our laws, of our own money, of our own country and this is what we are fighting for".
According to the D'hont system, to ensure fairness each group should have at least one committee chair, but when the EFDD group was formed last October this regulation was not applied.