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Move to stop Le Pen presiding at EU parliament

Published on 26/03/2009

STRASBOURG – The main groups in the EU parliament agreed Wednesday to stop Jean-Marie Le Pen chairing the chamber at its next inaugural session, after the French far-right leader downplayed Nazi death camps.

Joseph Daul, head of the European People’s Party – the biggest grouping in the parliament – backed the idea launched by the socialists and supported by the Greens to "do everything possible" to prevent Le Pen from taking the chair.

Earlier Le Pen caused a storm in the parliament by insisting that the Nazi death camps were a "detail of WWII history," repeating a statement originally made in 1987 that shocked France.

Already at the centre of controversy over the possibility of chairing the chamber’s next inaugural session, Le Pen – the oldest member at 80 – said he was the victim of "inflammatory accusations" by the parliamentary socialist group head, German Martin Schulz, who had branded him a Holocaust denier.

The far-right firebrand, who has several past convictions for racism and anti-Semitism, shocked Europe in 2002 by coming in second in the French presidential elections. He gathered around 10 percent of votes in the last French presidential race in 2007.

Le Pen was fined 1.2 million francs (EUR 185,000) for making the initial remarks in a radio interview in 1987.

Le Pen demanded an apology from Schulz.

On Tuesday the heads of the Socialist and Green groups in the EU parliament proposed a rule change to prevent Le Pen from presiding over the chamber as doyen.

"I am concerned by the fact that a Holocaust denier could preside over the opening session of the European Parliament," in July, the day after the European elections, Schulz said then, adding that the solution is "to change the rules".

Le Pen’s comments were "scandalous" and show that "the legal conviction has had no effect," said French MEP and Socialist spokesman Benoit Hamon.

AFP / Expatica