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France’s Le Pen wants Salvini to form populist EU group

Far-right leader of the National Rally party Marine Le Pen, attends a media conference for the upcoming European elections next month in Strasbourg, eastern France, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — France’s Marine Le Pen, one of the leading voices of the far right in the European Union, is throwing her political weight behind Italian hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini to set up a major populist group in the EU legislature after next month’s elections across the bloc.

The head of France’s National Rally party said Monday that “we have mandated Matteo Salvini … to try to build this very big group of the Defense of European Nations” in the European parliament.

Even though far-right populist parties sometimes have widely diverging stances on issues, Le Pen says there is more that unites them than divides them.

Currently, populist parties are spread across different groups in the legislature, such as Christian Democrat and Socialist groupings. Some, like Le Pen’s party, have long stood alone in the parliament.

Far right figures have often made plenty of noise in the legislature but have been sidelined when it came to wielding parliamentary power.

In recent years, however, populist and far-right parties have made inroads in several EU nations, from Salvini’s Italy to the Hungary of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to the rise of the right in last Sunday’s Finnish elections. Le Pen was the presidential challenger to Emmanuel Macron in the final round two years ago but lost heavily.

They hope that by uniting they will make be able to make their voice count in the 28-nation EU too for the first time. They are going their own way in the election campaign but hope to stand together afterward.

“We want to go further and get the (parliamentary) group which is the biggest, the strongest possible,” Le Pen said.

With Britain possibly being forced to take part in the May 23-26 elections despite the country’s plans to split from the EU by Oct. 31, Le Pen also held out a hand to Britain’s populist firebrand Nigel Farage.

“He is welcome if he wants to join. Even if it might be just for a moment,” she said.

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