France's Le Pen wins backing to form anti-EU Parliament group

Matthieu Demeestere

Brussels (AFP) - French National Front leader Marine Le Pen recruited Polish and British MEPs on Tuesday, finally allowing her to launch a new eurosceptic party dedicated to challenging every ambition held dear by champions of the EU.

The far-right National Front topped the vote in France in May 2014 European Parliament elections riding a wave of disillusionment with the EU and has been trying to form an official group -- and obtain the millions of euros that brings -- ever since.

Le Pen could count on the support of some 30 like-minded MEPs after the election, well above the 25 minimum required to form an official parliamentary grouping, but they came from only five of the EU's 28 member states, short of the seven countries needed to win official recognition and EU financing.

Le Pen said British MEP Janice Atkinson, who was expelled earlier this year by the British Independence party UKIP, had agreed to join, along with Michal Marusik and Stanislaw Zoltek, who have cut their ties to the extreme-right Polish KNP led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke.

"It is the culmination of a year's work," Le Pen said at the formal launch of the new group, "Europe of Nations and Freedoms," in Brussels, where she welcomed the three new members that give her the necessary seven-country representation.

"We are going to fight the European Commission and its turpitudes," she said, also attacking European Parliament president Martin Schulz for belittling her MEPs over the past year.

She said Schulz's attitude had emboldened her to form the new group, which was set "to fight with all our force for the defence of our peoples".

Winning official recognition in parliament will immediately give Le Pen a much higher profile, with MEPs from the group allowed to attend meetings of the assembly's important committees.

The group will also be able to apply for EU funding worth some 1.1 million euros ($1.2 million) a year to support its MEPs fighting against what they see as dangerous meddling by Brussels in issues such as immigration best left to member states.

- Le Pen's father not member -

Locked in a bitter feud with her father and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine said that he had no wish to be part of the new group which has 21 National Front MEPs as its core.

"It's an historic day, we are united, seven countries against the European Commission," Atkinson said, explaining that the absence of Jean-Marie Le Pen had allowed her to join.

Britain's eurosceptic, anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) expelled Atkinson in March for "bringing the party into disrepute" over payment of a restaurant bill as EU expenses.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also an MEP but in his own EU parliamentary grouping, described the incident at the time as "one of the most incredibly stupid and dishonest things I've ever seen in my life."

The new group also includes MEPs from the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), Italy's Northern League and Flemish nationalist group Vlaams Belang.

Pro-EU MEPs warned Tuesday that the launch of Le Pen's group meant all supporters of the European Union project had to step up and get the message across that the bloc offers its 500 million citizens the best future.

"All constructive forces ... must now close ranks and fight resolutely to bring good results in the interest of citizens," Manfred Weber, the head of the largest group, the European People's Party, said in a tweeted message.

Marine Le Pen, who took over the leadership in 2011, worked hard to rid the party of its overtly racist, anti-Semitic image and fell out badly with her father earlier this year over his remarks downplaying the Holocaust.

Last month, he said he was going to launch a new group of his own after he was suspended from the National Front.