Aymeric Chauprade. Realpolitik.tv/Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.What a difference a year makes. It seems like only yesterday that National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen visited her new friend, Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders, in The Hague, and announced that together they were going to “wreck” the European Union (EU) from within.
Their preferred sledgehammer was the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), the latest incarnation of a pan-European far right party. For months journalists and pundits speculated wildly about the imminent and seemingly inevitable success of the EAF in the upcoming European elections of May 2014; the question was not if the EAF would be able to form an official political group in the next European Parliament, but how big it was going to be. Much of this speculation was directly fed by Le Pen and Wilders, who (over)confidently claimed that they had the required support, which was uncritically echoed in the media. Even some academic experts bought into the hype, arguing that “the times they are a-changin’ - albeit slowly” – i.e. the EAF was going to be successful where previous attempts had failed.
Despite the far right “earthquake” that, at least according to the international media, shook Europe in May, the EAF failed to materialize inside the EP. Le Pen and Wilders were not able to attract any new members, getting stuck with just five members: FN, PVV, Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), the Belgian Flemish Interest (VB), and the Italian Northern League (LN). The only other party that had committed to the EAF, the Slovak National Party (SNS), lost its representation in the EP.
In the post-elections courting game, Le Pen and Wilders were unable to convince Nigel Farage, leader of both the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Europe for Freedom and Democracy political group (now Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy, EFDD). Even worse, while Farage lost various members to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), including the far right Danish People’s Party (DF), he was able to maintain the Lithuanian Order and Justice (TT) and add the Czech Party of Free Citizens (Svobodni) and the Sweden Democrats (SD), which were all widely tipped to be joining the EAF.
Earlier this month the EAF died a silent death. While it still exists de jure, it has ceased to exist de facto. This time mostly ignored by the international media, the FN recently announced the founding of a new Euro-party, the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom (MENL). While early reports from Polish media claimed that the MENL was an EAF+, adding the esoteric Polish Congress of the New Right (KNP), it is in fact an EAF-, losing the PVV – which allegedly does not want to take European funds – and, for now, the VB. In other words, as it stands, the MENL is a coalition of just three parties: FN, FPÖ, and LN.
So why did the FN take this step back? The official reason, by Aymeric Chauprade, leader of the FN faction, the fifth-largest in the EP, was not very insightful: “We no longer want to be part of the European Alliance for Freedom because we want to launch a new structure.” Most likely is that the FN wanted a Euro-party that was founded, and hence fully controlled, by the FN. The party has long been at the center of pan-European party initiatives, which were always dominated by former FN leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The EAF was founded without FN-involvement, however. It was the brainchild of Godfrey Bloom, a far right UKIP member and former MEP, who collected individual members rather than parties – including Franz Obermayr (FPÖ), Kent Ekeroth (SD), and Shanon Ellul-Bonici, a former EP candidate for the Maltese Labour Party. The FN joined only later, after Marine Le Pen had taken over from her father, and left his more extreme, and marginal, Alliance of European National Movements (EANM).
A second reason is undoubtedly the loser stigma that has become associated with the EAF. To some extent the EAF is the only high-profile failure in the still short but highly successful PN leadership of Marine Le Pen. Following the popular business strategy of rebranding after embarrassment (Goodbye Blackwater, Hello Academi!), the new MENL is a fresh start that is not tainted by failure. It is also to shield Marine Le Pen from another failure. While she became the face and unofficial leader of the EAF after joining, the MENL is going to be the project of her foreign policy advisor Chauprade – a novice to the EP and to the FN.
So what can we expect from the new MENL? Given that the requirements for European parties, which function only outside of the EP, are less demanding than for political groups, which exist only within the European Parliament, there is little doubt that MENL, and an associated think tank, will be officially recognized by the EU next year. They will then take the place (and money!) of the EAF and the European Foundation for Freedom (EFF), its ‘think tank’. While the MENL will have a clearer and more integrated structure than the EAF, which had a confusing mix of individual and party members, it will also have the support of fewer parties.
With regard to its main ambition, forming an official EP group, the MENL is as far away as the EAF. While the PVV and VB continue to be interested in forming a political group, the MENL is still two members short – a political group requires 25 MEPs from at least 7 member states. The only other uncommitted far right MEPs are considered too extreme for the FN or its allies – i.e. representing the extreme right German National Democratic Party (NPD), Greek Golden Dawn (XA), Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), and KNP. In the short-run the hope is to pick up some right-wing dissident MEPs, possibly from Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), Polish Law and Justice (PiS) or UKIP. But this is under the debatable assumption that Chauprade can keep the other parties on board.
Chauprade is Marine Le Pen’s golden boy, part of her strategy of ‘de-demonization’. He is a political scientist whose opportunistic views on ‘geopolitics’ have found support within the French political mainstream. Chauprade has taught at a variety of different institutions, including the dubious Institute of Democracy and Collaboration, a pro-Russian think tank, the surprising Royal College of Higher Military Education of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the highly respectable French Joint Defense College and University of Neuchatel in Switzerland. While his influence in the French political mainstream has decreased since coming out as an FN cadre, Chauprade is much less isolated than most other far right cadres.
However, Chauprade is also probably the most outspoken far right supporter of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. While many far right parties have recently warmed up to Putin, particularly as a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine, Chauprade’s support of Putin’s Russia is not simply an anti-EU strategy – as it is, most notably, for people like Farage and Wilders. Rather, as he proclaimed in a speech to the Russian parliament last year, he sees Russia as “the hope of the world against new totalitarianism.”
In essence, Chauprade follows the position of the nouvelle droite, the French ‘new right’ around Alain De Benoist and Guillaume Faye, who even during the Cold War saw the United States as a bigger threat to Europe (and ‘civilization’) than the Soviet Union. In fact, Chauprade seems to consider the United States, and Israel, as bigger threats than global Islam! This is all blasphemy to people like Wilders, and leading members of the VB, who are staunchly pro-Israel and pro-US.
In short, the MENL is off to a fairly poor start and seems destined to end the same as its many pan-European far right predecessors. In almost all ways it is the same old, same old. There is only one major difference: when the MENL will implode, a Le Pen will not be the main reason for its failure.