Le Pen and Orbán join forces in European parliament far-right alliance

<span>France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán in 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Benko Viviven Cher/Press Office of the Prime Minister</span>
France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán in 2023.Photograph: Benko Viviven Cher/Press Office of the Prime Minister

France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen has joined forces with the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán in a new far-right alliance in the European parliament.

The group, styled Patriots for Europe, becomes the third-largest force in the European parliament and the largest-ever far-right bloc in the history of the assembly.

The announcement came after the surprise result in France’s elections, when Le Pen’s National Rally came third after tactical voting to block the far right.

Jordan Bardella, widely seen as National Rally’s prime minister candidate, is now president of the new group in the European parliament. “As patriotic forces, we are going to work together in order to retake our institutions and reorient policies to serve our nations and peoples,” he said in a statement.

The nationalist, Eurosceptic group consists of 84 MEPs from 12 EU countries.

Led by Hungary’s governing Fidesz party – politically homeless since quitting the centre-right European People’s party (EPP) in 2021 – the group was founded only eight days ago by Orbán, the ANO party of former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš and Austria’s far-right Freedom party leader Herbert Kickl.

Italy’s far-right leader Matteo Salvini announced on Monday that his League MEPs would join the group. “After a long period of work, the big group of patriots, which will be decisive to change the future of Europe, comes to life in Brussels today,” Salvini said on social media.

They follow in the footsteps of the Dutch Freedom party, Spain’s Vox, Portugal’s Chega, the Belgian separatist Vlaams Belang and the Danish People’s party.

“Our long-term goal is to change European Union policymaking,” Kinga Gál, a veteran Fidesz MEP, who will serve as Bardella’s deputy, told reporters.

The group, she said, would strive to “protect Europe’s Christian roots”, ensure “the strongest possible protection of Europe’s external borders” and a “strong competitive Europe”. She said she hoped other like-minded parties would join soon: “The door stays open to others who wish to join.”

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland, however, has not been invited to join, after being expelled from a previous alliance with Le Pen, when its lead candidate said the SS – the Nazis’ main paramilitary force – were “not all criminals”.

Jean-Paul Garraud, a National Rally MEP, told reporters that this statement was “totally inadmissible” and nothing had changed to justify the AfD’s inclusion in the new group.

The arrival of Le Pen’s MEPs catapults the Patriots into third place, ahead of Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s nationalist European Conservatives and Reformists, pushing the liberal centrists into fifth place and the Greens into sixth.

While the group will be far larger than the previous far-right alliance – the Identity and Democracy group had 49 MEPs – it is likely to struggle to take influential jobs in the parliament, due to an informal cordon sanitaire against the far right.

The traditional centre-right and centre-left parties, who once commanded a majority between them, now have only a combined 45% of seats, with the EPP on 188 and the Socialists on 136.

The groups could still change before the new European parliament meets for the first time in Strasbourg next week, when it is to vote on whether Ursula von der Leyen gets a second term as European Commission president.

Ukraine is the dividing line between the self-styled Patriots for Europe and the more pragmatic nationalist right in the parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR).

Petr Fiala, the only other EU leader apart from Meloni who is a member of ECR, issued a withering assessment of the new group.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” he said. “Patriots for Europe serves the interests of Russia, either consciously or unconsciously, and thus it threatens the security and freedom of Europe.”

Meloni has proved to be a staunch supporter of Ukraine and of Italy’s Nato membership, while Orbán has infuriated other EU nations with a self-styled “peace mission” to meet Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin last week, after a visit to Kyiv to see Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Anger towards Orbán mounted on Monday, as the Hungarian leader arrived in Beijing, where he met Xi Jinping. “China is the only world power that has been clearly committed to peace from the beginning,” Orbán declared in a social media post, adding to the alarm about his foreign trips.

In a highly unusual move, EU ambassadors will discuss Orbán’s so-called “peace mission” on Wednesday. “The tensions are high after only seven days of the presidency,” said one EU diplomat, referring to Hungary’s current stint in charge of setting the EU agenda.

The divisions on Ukraine within the Patriots were suggested by a Dutch MEP, who said: “We, as a Dutch delegation, will keep supporting Ukraine as long as there is war. Every other delegation may do so [or] may not do so.”

France’s National Rally, previously the National Front, had warm ties with the Kremlin before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but has since said it would maintain military aid for Ukraine.

On Monday, Bardella said he took responsibility for the defeat of the RN, behind a united left alliance and President Emmanuel Macron’s party. “We all make mistakes, I made some,” he said. “I assume my share of the responsibility both for the victory in yesterday’s elections and yesterday’s defeat.”

Speaking on his behalf in the European parliament, RN MEP Jean-Paul Garraud said Macron had been much weakened by the parliamentary elections. And he criticised the cordon sanitaire that prevented RN MEPs and their allies from gaining influential positions in the European parliament as “totally undemocratic”.

Apparently welcoming the French election shock, Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk, said: “In Paris enthusiasm, in Moscow disappointment, in Kyiv relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw.”

Italian opposition parties celebrated the surprise outcome of the French elections, a result that is expected to widen the friction among the far-right allies in Meloni’s government which had been counting on a triumph by Le Pen’s National Rally.

Elly Schlein, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, said the “extraordinary” leftwing victory proved that “the right can be beaten”.

Meloni, who last week congratulated the National Rally’s performance in the first round of the election, is yet to comment publicly, but sources within her Brothers of Italy party told Corriere della Sera that Le Pen’s defeat demonstrated that the Italian government was “the only stable one in Europe”.