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Some of Europe's most prominent far-right politicians united in a new political grouping in the European Parliament on Monday, surviving an immediate Socialist challenge to its formation.
The Identity, Sovereignty and Tradition group brings together some big names from the far right of European politics, including French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen and Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Italy's wartime Fascist dictator.
The leader of the Socialist group in the parliament, Germany's Martin Schulz, challenged the group, saying it infringed the parliament's rules because its members did not share a common political platform and were joining up only to secure EU funding and other benefits.
However the assembly's president, Josep Borrell, a Spanish Socialist, rejected the challenge, pointing out that that all 20 members of the new group had signed up to a political declaration that they would "defend Christian and family values."
"That, I feel, bears witness to the political affiliation of the group," he told the chamber on his last day in office before stepping down at the end of his 2 -year term. "I believe the group should be able to continue."
The new faction plays on concerns about immigration and globalization, resisting the EU's drive for closer integration among its 27 member nations.
The far right had been unable to form a united group in the European Parliament for more than a decade. As an official political grouping, rather than a loose alliance of politicians, it will be eligible for increased speaking time, more attractive time slots and several hundred thousand euros (dollars) in 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 - is led by Bruno Gollnisch, the No. 2 in Le Pen's National Front.
Gollnisch thanked Borrell for withstanding the pressure and endorsing the group's formation.
"You correctly interpreted the rules. You resisted the demands made," he said. "I hope more brave people will join us. The national forces are the future of Europe."
Other members of the IST include three deputies from Belgium's separatist Flemish Interest Party and a Bulgarian who caused a stir in the parliament last year when he used racial slurs against a Hungarian lawmaker of Roma, or Gypsy, origin.
Other EU lawmakers said they would shun the new group and questioned whether it would gather any significant influence. The right-wing group is far outnumbered by the major political groups in the assembly - headed by the conservatives, socialists and liberals.
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