Tuesday 24 October 2017

Europe's hard right hail Trump and Brexit

Le Pen and Wilders speak of new world order as nationalist parties hold first summit

From left, Harald Vilimsky of the Austria Freedom Party; Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV party; Marine Le Pen of the French Front National; and Frauke Petry of Germany's AfD at the rally in Koblenz Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
From left, Harald Vilimsky of the Austria Freedom Party; Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV party; Marine Le Pen of the French Front National; and Frauke Petry of Germany's AfD at the rally in Koblenz Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Justin Huggler

Marine Le Pen praised Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as she met with the leaders of Europe's hard right in Germany yesterday to forge what they hope will be a new continent-wide movement.

"Brexit was the first real blow to the old order," Ms Le Pen, a French presidential hopeful, told a small but adoring audience of Germans. "We are here to bear witness to the end of one world and the birth of another."

Billed as an "alternative European summit", the meeting brought together on the same stage for the first time, Ms Le Pen, of the Front National, Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party (PVV) is leading polls in the Netherlands ahead of March's elections, and Frauke Petry, the leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

"Yesterday a new America, today a new Europe," Mr Wilders said. "The people of the West are awakening. They are throwing off the yoke of political correctness. This will be the year of the people, of liberation, the year of the patriotic spring."

The liberation they were talking about was from what Ms Le Pen called the "tyranny" of the European Union in its current form.

Speaker after speaker invoked Brexit. "It started last year with Brexit," Mr Wilders said. Brexit would "set the dominoes falling across Europe", Ms Le Pen said.

But the new European movement they were here to cement is much further to the right than most Brexit campaigners in the UK would be likely to endorse.

The meeting was hosted by the AfD, one of whose most prominent members last week called for Germany to stop feeling guilt over its Nazi past and described the national Holocaust Memorial as a "monument of shame".

One of the speakers was Matteo Salvini, of Italy's Northern League, who has spoken publicly of his admiration for Benito Mussolini.

The meeting was held under the umbrella of Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), a grouping in the European Parliament. It encompasses Ms Le Pen, who opposes French membership of Nato and agrees with Mr Trump that it is "obsolete", and Mr Wilders, who has called for the Koran to be banned in Holland.

In the wake of Mr Trump's election, they believe 2017 is the year they will overturn the European political order. Mr Wilders, who spoke of a "patriotic awakening", had clearly picked up on Mr Trump's inaugural address, and a banner proclaimed 2017 "the year of the patriots".

The whole event was clearly modelled on a Trump rally, down to the leaders' choreographed entrance to a style of electronic folk music, and the placards emblazoned with their names that were handed out for the audience to wave.

But it lacked Mr Trump's slickness. The soundtrack featured what sounded suspiciously like an Islamic muezzin, which many of the parties represented want to ban.

And the big entrance went wrong when a party apparatchik cut the music mid-flow for an announcement.

Nor did they manage to attract the sort of crowd Mr Trump's campaign did.

The organisers claimed attendance of 1,000, but they didn't manage to fill the hall. Delegates were outnumbered not only by the 3,000 protesters outside, but also by the 2,000 police officers assigned to keep the two sides apart.

Not that it dampened spirits in the hall, where delegates chanted "Merkel must go" and booed like a pantomime audience every time the German chancellor's name was mentioned. Ms Le Pen called Angela Merkel's refugee policy a "catastrophe".

Janice Atkinson, the sole UK representative, used the summit to make a bizarre pitch for a role as a go-between for Theresa May if Ms Le Pen is elected French president. "I'm happy to do a Farage and open the doors to the Elysee Palace," said Ms Atkinson, who joined the ENF grouping after she was expelled from UKIP over expenses claims.

Outside, protesters, who included Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor, sang the EU anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy, accompanied by an orchestra.

Inside, Mr Wilders was confident his revolution would not be stopped. "The patriotic spring we spoke about last year has not stopped but has accelerated," he told journalists. "Even if we do not win this year's elections, it doesn't matter. The genie will not go back into the bottle, whether you like it or not."

Sunday Independent

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