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14th Apr 2024

Austrian far-right in fresh push for EU respectability

Buoyed by their recent success in the polls, the Austrian and French far right have made a fresh push for respectability in the European Parliament. A blurring of the 'softer' far right with eurosceptic parties may be in the offing.

Austria's Freedom Party in particular called on the eurosceptic alliance in the chamber, the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping led by Britain's Ukip and Italy's Northern League, to let their two MEPs join.

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  • Heinz-Christian Strache in campaigning mode (Photo: _dChris)

FPO Party leader and MEP Heinz-Christian Strache alongside French Front National chief Marine Le Pen in the parliament in Strasbourg announced deeper co-operation between their two far-right parties at a Wednesday press conference.

Speaking to reporters, the Austrian also said that he wanted his deputies in the EFD but was being blocked by two MEPs in the grouping reluctant to embrace the party.

The two party leaders were hoping to put themselves across as serious statesman and distance themselves from the impression of far-right politicians as consorting with skinheaded and heavily tattooed bully boys.

According to a March poll in Le Parisien, Le Pen, who has something of a softer image from her father whom she succeeded as leader in January, would gain an unprecedented first-round victory if a presidential election were held today.

Meanwhile, a May survey found that were an election to happen now, the FPO would top the polls, with 29 percent of votes to the second-placed Social Democrat's 28 percent. A second far-right party, the Alliance for Austria (BZO) would be awarded an additional 13 percent, putting far-right politics by far the most popular option in the land.

Strache, whose MEPs are classed as 'non-inscrit', the parliamentary term for unattached deputies but something of a short-hand for extremists as most of the non-inscrit politicians come from far-right parties, wants to leave this reputation behind.

He declared he has no interest in joining with the Greater Romania party, the UK's British National Party (BNP) or Bulgaria's Ataka, three groups that in the demi-monde of the far-right are seen as the extremists.

Asked whether Le Pen is looking to form a parliamentary fraction with the FPO, she held back from a full endorsement, saying "Deeper relations and work on different fronts ... does not necessarily revolve around the European Parliament."

In an interview with Dutch radio on 1 June, Le Pen also sought to distance herself from Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders, saying he reads the Koran literally.

Strache this week also met with Belgium's Flemish nationalists of the Vlaams Belang and the Northern League to press his case.

According to Francesco Speroni, Northern League deputy and co-chair of the EFD, his party is in favour of the FPO joining, but MEPs from Greece's Laos and Denmark's People's Party are opposed.

The FPO has been campaigning for months to kick Greece out of the eurozone.

Ukip for its part said that they have no contact with Strache's party and have no comment on their joining.

"Everybody is free to desire to be a member of the EFD," EFD spokesman Herman Kelly, a member of Ukip, told EUobserver. "But we have no control over that. The EFD has had no contact with Strache. Ukip has had no contact with Strache. Why would we have an opinion about someone we have never met with?"

In the wake of the economic crisis, both euroscepticism and the far right have been two of the only political forces to increase their support in polls. While the centre-right has benefited electorally at the expense of the centre-left, it has been largely on the back of record abstention.

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