Tuesday, July 23, 2024

German far right forms own group in European parliament

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Alternative for Germany has formed a new group in the European parliament, cementing a three-way split between Europe’s biggest far-right parties.

The AfD will lead the Europe of Sovereign Nations group, party officials said on Wednesday, after a rift with France’s Rassemblement National (RN) left the German party isolated in the EU assembly.

Marine Le Pen’s RN announced last week that it would join a new group co-founded by Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, known as the Patriots for Europe.

The other rightwing group, coalesced around Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, is the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which is closest to the centre. Unlike the RN and the AfD which espouse Russia-friendly views, the ECR is united in their pro-Ukraine attitude.

Under EU parliamentary rules, a group can only be formed if a minimum of 23 MEPs from seven different nations band together, unlocking significant opportunities for appointments and political leverage.

But neither the Patriots nor the Sovereignists can hope for any senior positions in the EU assembly, as the pro-EU parties have formed a “cordon sanitaire” around them. The ECR, however, is on track to secure a vice-president position and two committee chairs.

Others joining the AfD’s 14 members include France’s Reconquête, the fringe party founded by firebrand Éric Zemmour that is even further to the right than Le Pen. Reconquête has been left with a single MEP after the others defected to the ECR.

Poland’s monarchist-nationalist Konfederacja and Slovakia’s Hnutie Republika, a party founded by former neo-Nazis, are also part of the Sovereignists.

The AfD, led by Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, increased its share of the vote in Germany to its highest-ever level of 15.9 per cent in the Europe-wide elections for the legislature in June, placing it second after the conservative Christian Democratic Union, the party of former chancellor Angela Merkel.

But a series of mis-steps during its campaign — including an interview with the Financial Times in which its top candidate, Maximilian Krah, said not all members of the Nazi SS were criminals — burnt the party’s bridges with other European rightwing populist movements.

Krah was subsequently elected as an MEP but the party has since expelled him from its delegation.

While the far right increased its vote across Europe, the rift with AfD, and questions over how to respond to Russia, have diminished its power.

Meloni’s ECR has fiercely criticised Orban for visiting Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. Meloni, who is Italy’s prime minister, has backed Ukraine against Russia and also sought to strike a more conciliatory tone in EU decision making, in contrast to others on the hard right.

EU lawmakers next week will vote to approve or reject the candidacy of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for a second term.

Meloni refused to back von der Leyen at a summit last month but the ECR will meet the German next week as she seeks to secure its votes. Von der Leyen’s overtures to Meloni and her allies have been strongly criticised by mainstream political voices, particularly those on the left.

Von der Leyen needs the support of 361 MEPs in a vote expected on July 18 in Strasbourg. The three parliamentary groups who support her have 401 members but some have already said they will reject her.

The centre-right European People’s party is the largest group in the assembly, followed by the Socialists & Democrats. The liberal Renew group built around Emmanuel Macron’s centrists is fifth with 76 members.

On Wednesday, von der Leyen also held talks with the Greens, who have 53 MEPs, to seek their support.

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