Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, has held a meeting with fellow Eurosceptic Geert Wilders in the Dutch legislature to discuss working together ahead of elections for the European Parliament in six months’ time.
The meeting yesterday of two of Europe’s highest-profile populist leaders could signal the start of a loose coalition of anti-European Union parties aiming to cash in electorally from the continent’s sluggish recovery from a crippling financial crisis.
Populists across Europe have been gaining in popularity in part because of their opposition to the EU. Populists in northern European countries have heavily criticised bailouts by the EU to floundering economies, such as Greece and Portugal in the south.
Addressing reporters in the Dutch parliament ahead of Ms Le Pen’s visit, Mr Wilders said he was keen to speak about policies his Freedom Party, known by its Dutch acronym PVV, shares with Ms Le Pen’s National Front.
Mr Wilders, a fierce EU critic, said the National Front “has a lot in common with the PVV – less Europe, less immigration”.
“There are also other parties in the European Union or Europe that we would like to work together with,” he said, acknowledging that one of the highest-profile Eurosceptic groups, the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) led by Nigel Farage, was not yet ready to join forces.
In the past, Mr Wilders has been reluctant to associate his party with the National Front, because of controversial comments by its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father.
Mr Le Pen has been convicted and fined in the past for racism and antisemitism, but his daughter has sought to soften the party’s message, and turned its anger toward what she calls the “Islamisation” of France.
That brings the party more closely into line with the PVV, which is pro-Israel and outspokenly anti-EU and anti-Islam. Mr Wilders has called for a halt to building mosques in the Netherlands and for a ban on the Koran, and wants the Netherlands to leave the 28-nation EU. He said he wants to “find common ground and fight together for our own countries and against Europe”.
About 30 protesters staged a noisy protest against Ms Le Pen’s visit outside parliament.
Mr Wilders is a polarising figure in the Netherlands, attracting adulation from his supporters and death threats from a tiny section of his opponents. He has for years lived under round-the-clock protection because of those threats.
Tony Brown, a former director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development who is now a board member at Ireland’s Institute of International and European Affairs, questioned whether groups with often strongly nationalistic backgrounds from across Europe will be able to work together successfully, but said that they could form a powerful new voice at the European Parliament.
The PVV has four seats in the European Parliament and the National Front three but they do not sit together at the 766-seat legislature, where MEPS from different countries generally are grouped together.