Le Pen enlists disgraced Ukip MEP for new group

French National Front leader Marine Le Pen on Tuesday recruited Polish and British MEPs to launch a new eurosceptic party dedicated to challenging every ambition held dear by champions of the EU.

Le Pen enlists disgraced Ukip MEP for new group
Marine Le Pen has formed a new eurosceptic group in the French parliament.

Le Pen could until now count on 37 like-minded MEPs elected to the European Parliament in 2014, well above the 25 minimum, but they came from only five of the EU's 28 member states, short of the seven required to win recognition and EU financing.

Le Pen said British MEP Janice Atkinson, who was expelled earlier this year by Ukip, had agreed to join, along with Michal Marusik and Stanislaw Zoltek, who had cut their ties to the extreme-right Polish KNP led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke.

“It is the culmination of a year's work,” Marine Le Pen said at the formal launch of the new group, “Europe of Nations and Freedoms,” in Brussels, where she welcomed the three new members that give her seven-country representation.

“We are going to fight the European Commission and its turpitudes,” she said, also attacking European Parliament president Martin Schulz for belittling her MEPs over the past year.

She said Schulz's attitude had emboldened her to form the new group, which was set “to fight with all our force for the defence of our peoples”.

Locked in a bitter feud with her father and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, she said that he had no wish to be part of the new group in Parliament which has the National Front's 21 MEPs as its core.

“It's an historic day, we are united, seven countries against the European Commission,” Atkinson said, explaining that the absence of Jean-Marie Le Pen had allowed her to join.

Britain's eurosceptic, anti-immigration UK Independence Party (Ukip) expelled Atkinson in March for “bringing the party into disrepute” over payment of a restaurant bill as EU expenses.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage, also an MEP but in his own Parliamentary grouping, described the incident at the time as “one of the most incredibly stupid and dishonest things I've ever seen in my life.”

The new group also includes MEPs from the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), Italy's Northern League and Flemish nationalist group Vlaams Belang.

The FN topped the vote in France in May 2014 European Parliament elections and has been trying to form an official grouping ever since.

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France’s far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's far-right National Front party, refused to submit to police questioning last month as part of an EU funding inquiry, claiming immunity as a European Parliament lawmaker, his adviser said Sunday.

France's far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Le Pen is one of several party MEPs suspected of using European Parliament funds provided for assistants to pay more than 20 France-based party staff.

If convicted, the party could be ordered to repay €7 million ($8.2 million), and the judges pre-emptively seized the subsidies.

An EU tribunal has already determined that Le Pen must reimburse €320,000.

But when police from France's anti-corruption squad tried to question him last month at his office just outside Paris, he claimed MEP immunity and ordered them to leave.

“He was prepared to receive them, but they had such arrogant attitudes which Jean-Marie Le Pen refused to accept,” his adviser Lorrain de Saint Affrique told AFP, confirming a report in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Le Pen, 90, sits as an independent after being thrown out of his party by his daughter Marine Le Pen in 2015 for saying the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” of history.

He has also often made disparaging statements against Muslims and Roma which have earned him a string of hate speech convictions.

His daughter has renamed the party the National Rally in an effort to shed its xenophobic and anti-Semitic image.

The EU funding inquiry has led French judges to withhold €2 million of public subsidies for the party, a move which Marine Le Pen has denounced as a “death sentence”.

Without the funds, she warns the party will be bankrupt by September.