National Front's Le Pen still looking for EU allies to form strong parliamentary presence

The Associated Press

French far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen speaks during a meeting at their headquarters in Nanterre, west of Paris, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front party shook France's political landscape by coming out on top in France's voting for European Parliament elections, beating the mainstream conservatives and the governing Socialists. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

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By JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG, Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — French National Front leader Marine Le Pen wants to see the European Union collapse, but on Wednesday she struggled to find enough kindred spirits in the European Parliament to take her anti-EU campaign to the next level.

Le Pen, who came to Brussels fresh from a stunning election win for her party and other far-right groups in Europe, was undaunted and said she had just begun.

"We will try to stop any new advance of the EU," she said.

Le Pen, whose party won more seats in the European Parliament on Sunday than any other in France, is now trying to form a full-fledged parliamentary group: a step that would guarantee more speaking time at the rostrum and greater financial support.

By Wednesday afternoon, she had secured the backing of right-wing parties from four other EU nations: The Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party of Austria, Italy's Northern League and Belgium's Flemish Interest.

Under European Parliament rules, however, seven countries must be represented in a group. After Le Pen held closed-door parleys with the National Front's partners, she said she was confident that will happen.

"Look at the smiling faces in front of you and understand that we have absolutely no worries," she told a news conference where she was flanked by the other party leaders.

Dutchman Geert Wilders echoed her confidence, saying, "We are writing history here."

The Northern League's leader, Matteo Salvini, said the other parties had joined in an "alliance of hope."

Salvini's group once belonged to an existing group in the European Parliament run by another major winner in the European elections: the UK Independence Party of telegenic British Euroskeptic Nigel Farage.

On Wednesday, it appeared Farage and Le Pen were courting some of the same parties —and were perhaps on a collision course for who will be the assembly's No. 1 anti-EU politician.

"Sorry Nigel, we're going to constitute our group," Le Pen told reporters with a smile. She denied that a Swedish right-wing party with two seats was leaning toward Farage.

UKIP's leader has consistently ruled out an alliance with the National Front. "That isn't going to happen," Farage told British media. Instead, he said he wants "to find a group of people that we think are part of our political family with views that are consistent with classical liberal democracy."

On Wednesday, he went hunting for support at the lunch table.

In a statement, UKIP said its leader had met for a midday meal in Brussels with Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, "to discuss a future relationship which could possibly lead to the formation of a new group in the European Parliament."

"If this works out it would be magnificent to see a swelling in the ranks of the Peoples' Army," UKIP quoted Farage as saying. "If we can come to an agreement, we could have fun causing a lot of trouble for Brussels."

"We will meet again in the next weeks," Grillo posted on Twitter, without giving his version of what had been discussed.

For European Union leaders and many ordinary citizens, the unprecedented electoral success of Euroskeptic and right-wing forces is anything but amusing. As Le Pen and her fellow party leaders held their news conference inside the parliament building, some 500 demonstrators gathered noisily but peacefully in the streets outside.

Erik Buelinckx said he had protested against the National Front 30 years ago, when Le Pen's father Jean-Marie led it.

"And now, 30 years later, it's his daughter that's coming here, so I am afraid that through all the actions that we did, it seems that it's getting worse and worse," Buelinckx said, speaking in English.