(photo credit: AP [file])
Some of Europe's most prominent right-wing politicians are uniting in single faction in the European Union's parliament, but other EU lawmakers and political analysts expressed doubts the new group will have much impact on mainstream policies.
The formation of the Identity, Sovereignty and Tradition group, announced last week, brings together some big names from the fringes of European politics. Among them is France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is again running for president on a nationalist platform that plays on concerns about immigration, globalization and the contention that France has sacrificed its interests and sovereignty to the European Union.
Another standout in the group is Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Italy's wartime Fascist dictator.
Together they will form the first far-right faction in the European Parliament in more than a decade and enjoy, at least briefly, a platform in the spotlight to call for action on some of the issues that dominate the debate among Europe's right-wing figures: namely limits on immigration and resisting the EU's drive for closer integration among its 27 member nations.
The group's formation also means it will be able to secure EU funding that can be used for campaigning and promoting its ideas.
The 20 members from seven countries, the minimum required to form a group in the 785-seat parliament, will be led by Bruno Gollnisch, the No. 2 behind Le Pen in France's National Front party. Le Pen's daughter also joins them in the new EU parliament group.
Other members include three deputies from Belgium's nationalist Flemish Interest Party and a Bulgarian who caused a stir in the parliament last year when, still as an observer, he used racial slurs against a Hungarian lawmaker of Roma, or Gypsy, origin.
Across Europe, nationalist politicians have made gains in recent elections, including in Belgium where Flemish Interest is now the strongest party in the country's Dutch-speaking north.
The far right has a steady following in France, with Le Pen's presidential bid currently polling around 12 percent support, and in countries such as Austria and Slovakia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out in a radio interview Sunday against the trend toward extremism and said her country would address the issue during its turn in the rotating presidency of the EU, which it took over this month.
At a news conference last week presenting the new EU parliament faction, Gollnisch tried to shake the extremist label, portraying his group as a mix of businessmen, doctors, journalists, professors and artists.
"I don't know where the hooligans are," said Gollnisch, who is awaiting a verdict from a French court in a trial over remarks in which he questioned the existence of Nazi gas chambers.
Other EU lawmakers said they would shun the new group and questioned whether it would be able to amass any significant influence.
"The likely formation of an extreme group ... is a sad reflection of the reality of today's Europe," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Greens in the EU assembly. "The extreme right (EU lawmakers) already sit in this house and the fact that they are organized will not give them more influence. They will remain marginal."
Experts say that the formation of the new group will not alter the balance of power in the European Parliament.
"In terms of real political clout this doesn't change much. It really seems more like a publicity stunt," said Guillaume Durand, a policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center.
But as an official political grouping, rather than a lose alliance of politicians, it will be eligible for more speaking time, more attractive time slots and several hundred thousand euros in EU funds.
The group, expected to be officially presented this week during a plenary sitting in Strasbourg, France, opposes efforts to adopt an EU constitution and expand the bloc to take in new members. It is also an advocate for the national interests over those of the EU.
Ironically, its formation was only possible with the arrival of new EU members Romania and Bulgaria on Jan. 1. The addition of several right-wing lawmakers from those two countries allowed the group to reach a minimum membership to form a parliamentary faction.