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French far-right leader Marine Le Pen seeks power in Brussels


Fresh from victory in European elections in France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Wednesday she was confident of creating a new eurosceptic group within weeks inside the European Parliament.

After driving her National Front (NF) to first place with 25 percent of the vote in France, Le Pen hopes to form and take command of a far-right grouping of parties in the Parliament, a move that would boost both her influence and financial clout.

But Le Pen appeared at a press conference in Brussels with allies from only four countries at her side, short of the seven-nation representation required under EU rules to be considered a group.

With her were leaders of Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang (VB), the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) and Italy's Lega Nord.

Also trying to form a eurosceptic grouping is rival anti-EU leader Britain's Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) who like Le Pen topped national polls, and also picked up 24 seats in the EU assembly.

"We aren't worried in the least about the future existence of our group," said Le Pen.

"Farage heads a group and wants to keep it," Le Pen added. "Sorry Nigel but we're going to set up our group."

At the same time, Le Pen said the two could possibly work together informally, perhaps forming "a front to oppose the most harmful elements" in the EU.

Her Dutch ally Geert Wilders of the anti-Islam anti-immigrant PVV said he was "very confident that maybe not tomorrow but in the next few weeks" the five far-right parties would find the extra two allies needed.

As they held their news conference hundreds of protesters massed out the parliament building shouting anti-fascist slogans.

- 'Trouble for Brussels' -

If officially recognised as a group, the Front and its allies would win the right to express an opinion on any issue raised in plenary session and take the presidency of any of the parliament's 20 committees and two sub-committees.

Its president would help draw up the agenda of the plenary sessions and get the right to reply directly in plenary session to the heads of the European Commission and the European Council.

It would also be given a secretariat, offices and aides paid by Parliament. Last year the Parliament's seven outgoing political groups shared a budget of 57 million euros ($78 million).

On top of this, the group would benefit from extra subsidies paid out to pan-European parties such as the 400,000 euros ($545,000) a year currently handed to the Malta-based European Alliance for Freedom (EAF).

Depending on how many members of parliament (MEPs) it had, it could win anywhere between one and three million euros a year. A group however must have at least 25 MEPs.

"An alliance of far-right parties would be more a marriage of convenience than a marriage of love," said a Parliament official speaking on condition of anonymity.

United by their opposition to the European Union, the continent's far-right groups remain far apart ideologically.

Farage currently heads the parliament's eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group that included far-rightists from Poland, Italy and elsewhere.

But some of his allies have lost seats, meaning he too may be unable to meet the seven-nation threshold.

The outspoken British sceptic has up until now refused any thought of an alliance with the NF, saying it had "anti-Semitism and general prejudice in its DNA".

Meanwhile, Farage met Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy's 5 Star Movement "to discuss a future relationship which could possibly lead to the formation of a new group in the European Parliament," according to a UKIP statement.

"If we can come to an agreement, we could have fun causing a lot of trouble for Brussels," Farage said in the statement.