On June 15th 2015, one of the three far-right groups in the European Parliament, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), was formed. Marine Le Pen announced that it would be composed of her party, the National Rally (RN), as well as the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, Italy’s Northern League (LN) led by Matteo Salvini, the Belgian Flemish Interest (VB), the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), ex-UK Independence Party MEP Janice Atkinson, and the Polish Congress of the New Right (KNP). Marine Le Pen finally united parties from seven different member states, the minimum requirement in order to form a group, as well as at least 25 MEPs. However, this had taken time, as Le Pen and Wilders had initially encountered a number of difficulties.
Prior to the European Parliament elections in 2014, Le Pen and her Dutch ally Wilders had formed an alliance with the aim of forming a group. However, although they had 38 MEPs, they were only able to secure them from five member states by the time the deadline passed. This denied them not only funding, but also speaking time and committee positions. At the same time, far-right Eurosceptic parties were overall successful in the May 2014 European Parliament elections. For example, in France Le Pen’s party obtained 24.86% of votes, winning 23 seats in Parliament and scoring higher than any other party in the country.
Le Pen’s explanation for her inability to form a group was her refusal to partner up with parties that held values that were “incompatible” with her own. This seems to have been linked to her willingness to adopt a softer image to that of her father and former party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. This process of “de-demonization” (dédiabolisation) was an attempt at achieving greater credibility whilst retaining a populist far-right identity. From this also clearly followed her decision to change the name of her party from National Front to National Rally in June 2018. Thus, she and Wilders decided not to allow parties with more extreme views than their own to join their group, fearing this may have an impact on their performance. This included the rejection of Greece’s Golden Dawn party, considered violent, and the Hungarian Jobbik party, which had previously made anti-Semitic statements. It can also be argued that the presence of another far-right group, that of Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) (previously Europe of Freedom and Democracy) formed in 2009, may have made the formation of a second far-right group more difficult in 2014.
Thus, the ENF was finally formed in 2015 following one year of negotiations with members of previously independent parties. Since its creation, the group has also welcomed the German Blue Party (BP). It is currently co-presided by Nicolas Bay of the National Rally, and Marcel de Graaf from the Party for Freedom.
This was not the first time the French far-right party had attempted to form a far-right group in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had joined far-right parties from Italy, Greece and later the UK to form the Group of the European Right in 1984. The group collapsed in 1989 and was replaced by the Technical Group of the European Right which was composed of MEPs from the French National Front, the Belgian Vlaams Blok and the German Republikaner. However, during the 1994 European parliamentary election, it failed to obtain a sufficient number of MEPs to qualify as a group and consequently dissolved. Only in January 2007 was there another attempt made, leading to the creation of the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group. It included Le Pen’s party as well as far-right parties from Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Belgium and Austria. However, it failed to survive following the decision of Romanian MEPs to leave in November of the same year.
Meanwhile, there has been some change in the ENF’s MEP composition since its formation in 2015. Most of those who have left the group were former members of the National Rally, which is significant because the French political party makes up the largest portion of the group. Those who left decided to defect, joining other political parties such as Debout la France or Les Patriotes, and have consequently joined other far-right groups in the European Parliament such as the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) or EFDD. Others who have left the group include a member of the Dutch Party for Freedom and a Romanian MEP. Meanwhile, some MEPs have joined the group since it was formed in 2015. For example, three MEPs from UKIP have joined the ENF in January 2019, including UKIP leader Gerard Batten. This demonstrates how the group has had difficulty stabilizing over the years due to a high turnover of MEPs.