Extreme Solidarity Far-Right Parties Form New Group in European Parliament

Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the EU has allowed Europe's far-right parties to form a new political group in the European Parliament. Left-wing politicians fear the extremist parties could become more powerful as a result.

Far-right Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Pen is part of the new far-right grouping in European parliament.

Far-right Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Pen is part of the new far-right grouping in European parliament.

European Union expansion is a topic typically supported by those on the left of the continent's political spectrum and opposed by those on the right. But in an ironic twist, the latest expansion round, whereby Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, has played into the hands of Europe's extremist right-wing parties.

Far-right groups in the European Parliament have come together to form a new political group called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS). The new group, which is the first far-right faction in the European Parliament in over a decade, was made possible by the accession of Bulgaria and Romania on Jan. 1. Combined, the two countries sent six far-right parliamentarians -- providing the 20 necessary to form a group. Such political groups benefit from increased funding and more power to set the agenda in debating sessions.

The politicians belong to the Greater Romania Party and Bulgaria's National Union Attack. Bulgaria and Romania have 18 and 35 MEPs respectively, increasing the total number of seats in the European Parliament from 732 to 785.

Among the politicians in the new grouping are Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front party, and Italy's Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Italian Fascist dictator. Other members include three deputies from Belgium's nationalist Flemish Interest Party and British independent MEP Ashley Mote, who announced last week he was joining the group.

According to the group's chair Bruno Gollnisch, deputy leader of France's National Front, the aim of the new faction is to defend national interests, Christian values and the "traditional family." At a news conference last week, Gollnisch tried to play down the extremist label, portraying his group as a mix of businessmen, doctors, journalists, professors and artists. "I don't know where the hooligans are," he said. Gollnisch is currently awaiting a verdict from a French court in a trial over remarks in which he questioned the existence of Nazi gas chambers.

Other EU lawmakers said they would shun the new group and questioned whether it would be able to gain any significant influence.

"The likely formation of an extreme group (...) is a sad reflection of the reality of today's Europe," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Greens in the European Parliament prior to the Monday session. "The extreme right (MEPs) already sit in this house and the fact that they are organized will not give them more influence. They will remain marginal."

Experts said that the formation of the new group would not alter the balance of power in the assembly. "In terms of real political clout this doesn't change much," Guillaume Durand, a policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center, told AP. "It really seems more like a publicity stunt."

Not all politicians were so sanguine, however. German Greens politician Cem Özdemir told AFP he was concerned that the group would be "better able to attack the parliament using parliamentary funds."

Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against the rise of the far-right Sunday in comments to the radio station Deutschlandfunk. She said she was alarmed by the electoral success of far-right parties and the increase of right-wing violence.

"Extremist violence, no matter from which direction, can never be accepted," she said. "The government has raised efforts to fight it. (...) We need a bit of courage from all the political parties to clearly resist and we're trying to tackle the problem intensively in the government."

Germany took over the presidency of the European Union on Jan. 1. Berlin plans to address the problem of right-wing extremism during its six-month term.



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