Far-Right Sets Sights on European Parliament

PARIS (AP) -

France’s far-right National Front, coming off a historic electoral victory at home, is marching toward a new target: the European Parliament.

Party chief Marine Le Pen is leading the charge for continent-wide elections next month, and hoping to attract kindred parties around Europe in a broad alliance.

As the extreme right rises across Europe, Le Pen wants to seize the momentum, raising the voice of her anti-immigration National Front and amplifying it through a broad parliamentary group. These parties, leveraging public frustration with the EU, want to weaken the bloc’s power over European citizens from within Europe’s Parliament.

“My goal is to be first” in France’s vote for the European Parliament, “to raise the conscience over what the European Union is making our country live through,” she said Tuesday, the morning after her party won a dozen town halls and more than 1,000 city and town council seats in municipal elections.

The voting for the 751-seat European Parliament, based in Strasbourg in eastern France, takes place in each of the EU’s 28 member states, stretching over four days beginning May 22.

Le Pen’s main goal is to use larger numbers in parliament to shift the political discourse toward far-right complaints and establish a long-term foothold.

Europe’s economic downturn has fueled populist parties across the continent. But it’s not all about the economy: Europeans are in the grips of a chronic identity crisis fed by immigration, largely from former European colonies and Muslim nations.

The National Front currently holds three seats in the European Parliament, with Le Pen and her father, party founder Jean Marie Le Pen, holding two of them. Experts say she could get up to 20 deputies in next month’s vote, and foresee strong performances from other European extreme-right parties.

So far, there is nothing to suggest a far-right group could break the hold of the largest two blocs in parliament: the center-right European People’s Party that groups together conservative politicians and has 275 seats, and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which has 194 seats.

However, there is a long-term concern.

“Five years from now, people could be voting in even larger numbers for such parties,” Marco Incerti of the Center for European Policy Studies said.