Le Pen pushes for a far-right Europe

Ms Le Pen (second from right), leader of the French National Front party, at a gathering of European right-wing parties in Koblenz, western Germany, on Saturday. With her are (from left) Mr Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party; Dr Petry, chairm
Ms Le Pen (second from right), leader of the French National Front party, at a gathering of European right-wing parties in Koblenz, western Germany, on Saturday. With her are (from left) Mr Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party; Dr Petry, chairman of the Alternative for Germany; Mr Vilimsky, secretary- general of the Freedom Party of Austria; and Mr Salvini of Italy's Northern League.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

French National Front leader and other European right-wing leaders chart joint path to success in polls

KOBLENZ (Germany) • Ms Marine Le Pen has wasted no time in proclaiming 2017 as the year of far-right awakening in Europe.

"We are living through the end of one world, and the birth of another," Ms Le Pen, leader of France's National Front party, told a cheering gathering of European right-wing parties, all there to chart a joint path to success in elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year.

"In 2016, the Anglo-Saxon world woke up," Ms Le Pen said on Saturday. "In 2017, I am sure that it will be the year of the continental peoples rising up."

The triumph of anti-Europeans in Britain and success of Mr Donald Trump in the United States have galvanised the Continent's far-right parties, who are making appeals to disillusioned voters already bitter over social inequality, loss of sovereignty and waves of migration.

And amid suspicions that Russia is trying to destabilise the Continent by allying with the right, Europe's mainstream parties may be forced into awkward or ineffectual coalitions to preserve their power and keep extremists out.

WORLD IN TRANSITION

We are living through the end of one world, and the birth of another.

MS MARINE LE PEN, leader of France's National Front party.

NEW REALITIES

The world is changing. America is changing. Europe is changing... It started last year with Brexit, yesterday there was Trump and today, the freedom-loving parties gathered in Koblenz making a stand.

MR GEERT WILDERS, head of the anti-Islam Dutch Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

Mr Geert Wilders, a Dutch nationalist whose anti-Islam Dutch Freedom Party leads the polls for spring elections in the Netherlands, was emblematic of the confidence of the far right at the meeting. "The world is changing," he said. "America is changing. Europe is changing."

He added: "It started last year with Brexit, yesterday there was Trump and today, the freedom-loving parties gathered in Koblenz making a stand... the genie will not go back into the bottle again, whether you like it or not."

Other leaders present were Mr Matteo Salvini of the Northern League, who wants to take Italy out of the euro zone, and Mr Harald Vilimsky, secretary-general of the Freedom Party of Austria.

Mr Wilders and other far-right leaders have successfully tapped into a sense of lost identity across Europe that has been heightened by the arrival of waves of migrants, the effects of a globalised and digitised economy, and perceptions that attempts are being made by institutions like the European Union (EU) to impose uniformity on diverse European cultures.

Mr Patrick Bauer, 22, a member of Alternative for Germany, a far-right party that has benefited from widespread opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow in about one million mainly Muslim migrants in 2015, said he was drawn to the meeting mostly by Mr Wilders.

He said the Dutchman epitomises the choice and variety that should be available in Europe, without citizens being forced to accept policies and economic models fashioned by pan-European institutions.

Mr Bauer, who sits on a local council in the Taunus hills north of Frankfurt, also said he was worried by what he saw as the advance of Islam - "up to 80 per cent of students at some schools in Frankfurt".

The German Chancellor's name was loudly booed and chants of "Merkel must go" erupted several times during the two-hour morning rally, which was attended by hundreds of supporters.

The gathering on Saturday was notable for bringing together two women: Ms Le Pen and Dr Frauke Petry, leader of the Alternative for Germany. Both hope to lead the right's advance in France and Germany, the traditional motors of the weakened 28-nation EU, which Britain voted in June to leave.

The task of negotiating Brexit has fallen to a third woman, Prime Minister Theresa May. All three are arrayed against Dr Merkel, who has been in power for 11 years but may fail in her bid for a fourth term in September elections.

Ms Le Pen, speaking in French in her first appearance at a rally in Germany, was a forceful presence at the gathering, making an impassioned speech to loud applause.

While she gave a quieter speech than her French counterpart, Dr Petry, a fluent English speaker who, like Dr Merkel, was raised in former East Germany and has a doctorate in science, also called for a new model for the Continent.

"We are the ones who must take our fate into our own hands," Dr Petry said. "Something has happened and we are here to create an alternative for Europe," she later told reporters.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Le Pen pushes for a far-right Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe