Skip to main content

Europe must 'wake up' in 2017, far-right leaders urge

'In 2016 the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. In 2017 the people of continental Europe will wake up,' Marine Le Pen tells 'counter-summit'
Dutch, French and German far-right leaders pose for photos at the regional summit on Saturday (Reuters)

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen urged European voters to follow the example of Americans and the British and "wake up" in 2017 at a meeting of far-right leaders on Saturday.

Emboldened by the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's US presidential victory, the far-right National Front leader said voters in France, Germany and the Netherlands would be next to reject the status quo.

"2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. I am sure 2017 will be the year the people of continental Europe wake up," she said to loud applause at the event, which organisers billed as a "European counter-summit".

"It's no longer a question of if, but when," she added in a speech that railed against migration, the euro and open borders.

Le Pen, head of the anti-EU, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) and seen by pollsters as highly likely to make a two-person runoff vote for the French presidency in May, has marked out the issue of Europe as a major plank in her programme.

READ: Marine Le Pen's meeting with Egyptian religious leader blasted

The far-right leaders met under the slogan "Freedom for Europe" with the aim of strengthening ties between their parties, whose nationalist tendencies have hampered close collaboration in the past.

"The key factor that is going to set in course all the dominos of Europe is Brexit. A sovereign people chose ... to decide its destiny itself," Le Pen said.

"The second coup did not come long after: the election of Mr Trump to the presidency of the United States ... his position on Europe is clear: he does not support a system of oppression of peoples," she added.

In a joint interview with the Times of London and the German newspaper Bild published on Monday, Trump said the EU had become "a vehicle for Germany" and predicted that more EU member states would vote to leave the bloc as Britain did last June.

Protesters set up cardboard cut-outs of European dictators outside the conference venue (AFP)

Wilders hails 'free America'

Populist anti-immigration parties are on the rise across Europe as high unemployment and austerity, the arrival of record numbers of refugees and militant attacks in France, Belgium and Germany feed voter disillusionment with traditional parties.

The mood is mirrored in the United States, where Trump was inaugurated as US president on Friday.

Several leading German media outlets have been barred from the Koblenz meeting due to perceived left-wing bias, one of the summit's organisers said on Saturday, saying they were free to watch an online livestream of the conference.

The meeting was organised by the European Parliament party Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF),  which was set up by Le Pen in 2015 and is now home to 40 MEPs from nine member states.

Also at the meeting were Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party (PVV) who was last month convicted of discrimination against Moroccans, and Matteo Salvini of the Northern League who wants to take Italy out of the euro.

In the Netherlands, Wilders is leading in all major polls before national parliamentary elections on 15 March. Again hailing Trump's election, Wilders told the meeting: "Yesterday a free America, today Koblenz, and tomorrow a new Europe."

Up to 3,000 people demonstrated outside the venue, with many holding up placards reading: "Koblenz is colourful".

Translation: Impressive demonstration in Koblenz for a Europe that is colourful and based on solidarity

Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of Germany's Social Democrats, junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition, was due to join the protest. 

Over 1,000 police officers were deployed around the city to keep the demonstrations peaceful.