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French, Dutch far-right leaders discuss European alliance

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French far-right leader Marine Le Pen travelled to The Hague on Wednesday to discuss forging closer ties with Dutch anti-Islamic leader Geert Wilders ahead of next year's European elections.

Le Pen was met by Wilders, who heads the Party for Freedom (PVV), at the Dutch parliament before attending a parliamentary debate.

"Welcome to the Netherlands," Wilders said in French, adding in English: "Nice to see you again."

Known for his platinum-blonde hair and anti-Islamic views, Wilders announced Le Pen's visit last month, saying they would explore an alliance ahead of next May's European Parliament elections, seeking to profit from popular unhappiness because of the financial crisis.

Both Le Pen's National Front (FN) in France and Wilders' PVV have said they would like to unite eurosceptic rightwing parties, essentially to undermine the European Union from the inside.

In order to form a rightwing anti-European bloc, Wilders and Le Pen would have to find likeminded politicians in at least a quarter of the EU's 28 member states and see 25 members elected to the 766-seat European Parliament.

If they become an official European political group, then they would benefit from subsidies, offices, a communication budget, seats on committees and speaking time in parliament proportional to their number.

Wilders warned last month that "parties such as the FN and the PVV could make the europhile elite sing a different tune."

There is already a eurosceptic group called the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), led by Nigel Farage of Britain's UK Independence Party, but it only has 32 seats.

A Le Pen-Wilders far-right alliance could include the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Belgium's Vlaams Belang, Italy's Northern League and the Freedom Party of Austria.

Rightwing parties in eastern Europe, including Hungary's Jobbik and Slovakian, Bulgarian and Romanian nationalist parties are excluded because of their perceived racism.

Farage's UKIP has in turn excluded joining the alliance, considering some of Wilders's policies too extreme.

The PVV lost out in a Dutch general election in September 2012, with its seats almost halved to 13, but the party has been riding high in opinion polls, largely thanks to anti-EU policies.

Le Pen and Wilders have many similar policies, from immigration to protectionism, but Wilders reportedly wanted to keep his distance because of the anti-Semitism of Le Pen's father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Le Pen in turn is banking on Wilders's pro-Israel stance to buff up her own international image, an analyst told Dutch daily NRC Next.

Le Pen, currently a member of the European Parliament, and Wilders had lunch in Paris in April, after which Le Pen said she was "perhaps less radical" than Wilders on Islam.

While she fights against Islam's presence in public life in France, "I have nothing against Islam in itself," she said in an interview in September.

Wilders, who was acquitted of inciting hatred of Muslims in mid-2011, has in the past likened Islam to Nazism and the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

Le Pen, who was first elected to the European Parliament in 2004, won 18 percent of the vote in the first round of France's presidential election in April 2012, the party's highest-ever score.

Wilders tweeted last week that the Dutch parliamentary speaker Anouchka van Miltenberg, a member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal VVD party, declined to welcome her to the Lower House.

However, Van Miltenburg's spokeswoman said the speaker "only welcomes guests invited by parliament. Le Pen is not a guest of parliament but of Wilders."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131113/french-dutch-far-right-leaders-discuss-european-alliance