April 18. 2024. 9:41

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Future of far-right group in EU Parliament threatened by Franco-German rift

Rifts between the two major far-right players of the European Parliament, Germany’s AfD and Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, are deepening, threatening their European unity and the future of their common parliamentary group – the ID.

Germany’s far-right AfD and France’s Rassemblement National (RN) are dominating the far-right parliamentary group Identity & Democracy (ID) in the European Parliament.

However, an investigative report on AfD members who supported the idea of “remigrating” German citizens with migration backgrounds is casting a major shadow on the relations between the two far-right parties. Le Pen already questioned the collaboration with the AfD over the incident in January.

Various attempts by the AfD to appease their French counterpart in this regard have been fruitless so far, with the RN insisting that the AfD has to do more to distance itself from the controversial proposal.

“The RN remains vigilant about the political line of its allies. We must therefore debate the AfD’s line internally,” Jean-Paul Garraud, leader of the RN delegation at the European Parliament told Euractiv, after recent attempts by the AfD to explain themselves.

Neither a position paper by the AfD, where they toned down the meaning of “remigration” in their election programmes, nor informal bilateral meetings by some of the representatives in the European Parliament were able to clarify the issue.

Last week, Alice Weidel, the AfD’s co-leader, even met Marie Le Pen in Paris to explain the party’s position on the issue in person – apparently to no avail.

According to ID party sources, the relationship between RN and AfD has been damaged so severely that their future cooperation is highly questionable, several ID party sources said.

The rift between the two parties could mean the end for the ID, their common parliamentary group, or at least the membership of said group for one of the parties, the sources added.

If the smouldering conflict between the ID’s two most influential parties endangers the parliamentary group itself, it could cause a major reshuffle of party alliances of the right wing in the European Parliament.

Breakup pain

While informal bilateral meetings by some of the representatives in the European Parliament were held, the issue has yet to be resolved.

Following the meeting between Weidel and Le Pen in Paris last week, the RN insisted on a written explanation on the matter.

Thibaut François, a member of the French parliament, stated that a written commitment had been demanded from the AfD that ‘remigration’ would not be part of the party’s programme, according to French media. However, this is impossible for the AfD to fulfil, as the terminology is already in use in various programmes, such as the EU election campaign.

Apparently, Weidel’s explanation got lost somewhere between the English-French translations. AfD’s leadership had to choose between two uncomfortable options, either write a clear statement against remigration and risk a conflict with the party base or refuse to explain themselves further and consequently cut off its relations with RN.

On Monday, a letter by Weidel was sent to Le Pen, blaming the media for distorting the topic and clarifying that the AfD members who attended the meeting on remigration did so outside of their party functions.

“We are carefully examining the AfD’s letter and we will discuss it at the highest level of the RN,” delegation leader Garraud told Euractiv.

On Wednesday (28 February), Le Pen said in Paris that “many questions remain unanswered.”

Le Pen’s issue

For Le Pen, who continues to be RN’s figurehead in the French National Assembly, the terminology used – remigration – is particularly troublesome.

In France, the dividing term is coined by Le Pen’s direct competitor Eric Zemmour, founder of the extreme-right Reconquête!. Zemmour has gained national popularity by holding an even more extreme position on immigration than Le Pen.

During his last election campaign in 2022, he suggested the ‘remigration’ of people who are illegal immigrants or criminals, and to strip offenders of their French citizenship, if they hold another one.

Le Pen, however, has her eyes set on the French presidential elections in 2027 and needs to convince voters that her party is socially acceptable.

The European elections in July, seen as a “French mid-terms” are the most opportune time to bring her party’s affiliations in line with the national focus.

A reshuffle of alliances?

It is not uncommon for new political groups to form in the European Parliament over this time, and for parties to switch their affiliation after elections.

And this is what is precisely at stake. If both parties do not come to terms, they will likely split, according to people familiar with the matter.

The outcome of the quasi-ultimatum by RN will have major consequences for the future right-wing groups in the Parliament.

However, the RN’s leverage in insisting on the clarification of an alliance will also be determined by the number of seats it occupies at the end of the European elections, sources said.

At the moment, in both Germany and France, the two far-right parties are flying high in their respective polls.

In the background, European alliances with the other big players, such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia and the members of Victor Orbán’s Fidesz, could also have major consequences.

Meloni and Le Pen are currently attempting to deepen their relations, as Le Monde recently reported.

With Orbán looking for a European family to join as well, a powerful new right-wing group would be a severe cut to the AfD’s influence on the right side of the Parliament. Even with doubling their members, an exclusion by the other big players, would hamper the attempt to be a respected part of right.

Read more with Euractiv

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