French, Dutch far-right launch eurosceptic alliance
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Dutch anti-Islamic leader Geert Wilders on Wednesday launched what they called a "historic" alliance to fight next year's European elections, with other eurosceptic parties expected to join.
"Today is a historic day. We have taken a decision to ally ourselves with other patriots willing to work within the same dynamic," Le Pen told journalists after talks with Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Wilders.
"Today is the start of the liberation of Europe from the monster of Brussels," said Wilders, known for his platinum-blonde hair and his eurosceptic and anti-Islamic views.
He said last month he and Le Pen would explore building ties ahead of next May's European Parliament elections, held against a backdrop of discontent over Europe's economic woes.
Both Le Pen's National Front (FN) in France and Wilders' PVV have said they would like to unite eurosceptic right-wing parties across the continent, as a way to challenge the European Union from within.
"Working together, we want to repatriate the ability to decide ourselves how we control our borders, how we control our money and our economy," Wilders said.
Protest against 'dangerous alliance'
While Le Pen and Wilders met, a small group of around 20 people protested loudly outside parliament by banging drums and blowing air horns.
"We are here to protest against racism, which is what both Le Pen and Wilders' parties stand for," said a protester who asked not to be named, brandishing a placard with Le Pen's face covered by a no-entry sign.
"This alliance is dangerous," said demonstrator Ewout van den Berg, 26.
"We're against Wilders, against Le Pen and against all those who want to polarise society," he said.
In order to form a far-right anti-European bloc, Wilders and Le Pen would have to find like-minded politicians in at least a quarter of the EU's 28 member states and see 25 members elected to the 766-seat European Parliament.
If they become an official European political group, they would benefit from subsidies, offices, a communication budget, seats on committees and speaking time in parliament proportional to their number.
There is already a eurosceptic parliamentary group called the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), led by Nigel Farage of Britain's UK Independence Party, but it only has 32 seats.
"I understand that he (Farage) is not too eager today to work with my party, but let me tell you, I hope after next year's elections he will be able to join in our initiative," Wilders said.
Not all right-wing parties welcome
A Le Pen-Wilders alliance could include the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Belgium's Vlaams Belang, Italy's Northern League, the Freedom Party of Austria and others.
But right-wing parties in eastern Europe, including Hungary's Jobbik and Slovakian, Bulgarian and Romanian nationalist parties would be excluded because of their perceived racism.
The PVV lost out in a Dutch general election in September 2012, with its seats almost halved to 13, but the party has been riding high in opinion polls, largely thanks to anti-EU policies.
Le Pen and Wilders have many similar policies, from immigration to protectionism.
But the pro-Israel Wilders on Wednesday defended himself against questions about aligning with Le Pen, whose father Jean-Marie Le Pen is often accused of being a virulent anti-Semite.
"Of course I reject the utterances of Mrs Le Pen's father and from which Mrs Le Pen has distanced herself," Wilders said.
He added: "I am convinced that there's not an inch of racism or anti-Semitism within her (Marine Le Pen)."
For her part, Le Pen is banking on Wilders' pro-Israel stance to buff up her own international image, observers say.
Le Pen 'less radical' on Islam
Le Pen, currently a member of the European Parliament, and Wilders had lunch in Paris in April, after which Le Pen said she was "perhaps less radical" than Wilders on Islam.
Acquitted of inciting hatred against Muslims in mid-2011, Wilders has in the past likened Islam to Nazism and the Koran to Hitler's manifesto "Mein Kampf".
While Le Pen strongly opposes Islam's presence in public life in France, "I have nothing against Islam in itself," she insisted in a recent interview.
First elected to the European Parliament in 2004, Le Pen took 18 percent of votes in round one of France's 2012 presidential election, the party's highest-ever score.
She and Wilders now aim to take their message across national borders, with both parties tipped to do well in May's European elections.
"The time when the patriots' movements were divided, are over," Le Pen said.
© 2013 AFP