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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le FN avance ses pions au parlement européen

by Paul Falzon

FN Advances its Pawns in the European Parliament: Le Pen looking to create political group in Strasbourg

Translated Monday 11 December 2006, by Steve McGiffen

Politics: Isolated in the hemicycle, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party hopes to profit from the arrival of nationalists from Romania and Bulgaria and create a political group of the extreme right.

Will the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the European Union this coming January 1st allow the Front National (1) to create a group of the extreme right in the European Parliament? The arrival of a handful of ultranationalist members among the fifty-three parliamentarians who will represent the new member states in the Strasbourg hemicycle could allow the French party and its allies to fulfil the criteria required for the founding of a group: a minimum of nineteen members from at least five different countries. As things stand, the FN is not a member of any group and its MEPs sit, by default, among the ’non inscrits’, the unaffiliated.(2)

FORMING A PARLIAMENTARY GROUP

“To be a member of a group carries numerous advantages, especially on the material level: offices, supplementary personnel, finance to organise conferences,” Maria d’Alimonte, General Secretary of the United Left Group/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) stresses. “Finance is also available for organising information campaigns on members’ activities.” On an institutional level, groups share positions of responsibility such as chairs and vice-chairs of parliamentary committees and the writing of reports on proposed directives and other measures. “Being in a group means you get more speaking time in plenaries (3) and the right to participate in the Conference of Presidents (of political groups) which determines the broad lines of the Parliament’s work,” Ms d’Alimonte explains.
The plan to create a group has long been an objective of the FN leadership. Immediately following the European elections of 2004, the Front National admitted to its isolation in the European Parliament, an isolation due to its leader’s personality: known throughout Europe, Jean-Marie Le Pen comes with a fiendish reputation which has led even as extreme a grouping as the Danish People’s Party to maintain its distance from him publicly in the run-up to a number of elections. In Strasbourg, the extreme right is therefore divided into three broad blocs. The ’pro-sovereignty’ parties have created their own group, Independence and Democracy (ID) a heterogeneous collection of twenty-eight members which includes Philippe de Villiers’ MPF (Movement for France), the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the nationalist, ultra-Catholic Polish League of Families (LPR). Populist groupings such as the Danish People’s Party have found a home in the Union for a Europe of Nations (UEN) which brings together, primarily, parties of the hard right such as the Polish PiS (the conservative party currently in power there) and the ’former’ neofascists of Italy’s National Alliance (AN).

Those whom nobody wanted have remained ’non-inscrits’. Among them are the seven elected members from the FN, three from Belgium’s Flemish far right nationalists, Vlaams Belang, one Austrian from Haider’s FPO and one from Italy’s Northern League. They have been working for several months with five “Observers”, people designated by their national parliaments to get to know the ropes at Community level: four from Romania’s ’Mare’, a party which campaigns for a ’Greater Romania’ and the return of territories currently situated in the Ukraine or Moldovia, and one representative of the Bulgarian extreme right party Ataka, characterised by its violent hostility to its country’s Turkish and Roma minorities. In common with the great majority of Observers, these five, although not elected by universal suffrage, will become actual MEPs on accession, retaining their positions until the European elections of 2009.

IN SEARCH OF RESPECTABILITY

The plan to form a group really got going in November 2005 in Vienna after a meeting in which the majority of ’non-inscrit’ parties participated. Bruno Gollnisch, in charge of this matter for the FN, noted in December 2005 in the publication Identités, dedicated to his activities as a MEP, that the plan to form a group had been “gone into at some length” in Vienna and that “with the Romanian and Bulgarian accessions, the objective had become once again achievable.” The meeting also allowed the parties concerned to sign a ’Declaration of Vienna’ laying down the principles governing common work. Four weeks ago, the ’Fête des Bleu-Blanc-Rouge’ (Red, White and Blue Festival, a FN gathering), at which most of the groupings mentioned above were guests, marked a new stage. FN vice-President Carl Lang, was by then able to say that the group would be created, “probably in January.” (Le Monde, 12 Nov.) It would seem now that the FN is attempting to attract other isolated Members of the European Parliament, amongst whom is Alessandra Mussolini, who until now has been hesitant to move closer to the FN, another member of the Italian neofascist MSI, three dissident members of the Polish LPR, a Greek nationalist, and another from Britain. Other groupings, such as the Polish populists of Samoobrona, are likely to decline the invitation.

“For the Front National, the creation of a group would mark a successful operation, allowing it to demonstrate, a few months before the French elections, that the party is not isolated,” explains political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist in the extreme right in Europe. “But at the same time, the fact that the major populist parties who are attempting to get into government in their own countries are refusing, for image reasons, to ally themselves to the FN obliges the Front to approach parties which are much more extreme. In the end, the constitution of this political group could offer proof that the FN’s strategy of ’respectibilisation’ is a load of old rubbish.”

Translator’s notes

(1) The party’s name is rarely seen or heard in (its in any case somewhat obvious) translation.
(2)The French expression is used universally by European Parliament staff, the MEPs themselves, and others with an interest in the institution.
(3)Much of the Parliament’s work is conducted in Committees, where time is allocated by the Chair in an informal but generally fair manner, according to who wishes to speak and how much time is available. In the roughly monthly plenary sessions, attended in principle by all MEPs, time is allocated much more formally, each group being given a number of minutes according to its size.


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