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Prospect of Le Pen as chair raises a storm in EU Parliament

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2009-03-25

The prospect of Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Front National, chairing the next inaugural session of the European Parliament has many parliamentarians up in arms.

France’s far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen will celebrate his 81st birthday following the June European elections, which could make him the European Union Parliament’s oldest member — and therefore the chair of the body's opening session.

Continually re-elected since 1984, the president of the Front National is likely to win his sixth consecutive mandate in the next European parliamentary elections. He is standing as a candidate in France’s south-eastern electoral district.

If successfully re-elected, he would be the oldest European parliamentarian, and as such, under Article 11 of the European Parliament’s rules, he would preside over the body until a new chair was elected.

His opponents on the French left are trying to stop their nemesis from taking centre stage by fielding an even older candidate.

Members of the European Green and Socialist parties are pressing the European Parliament to change the rules.

On Tuesday, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the European Greens–European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, called for the youngest MEP to open the first session instead of the oldest.

Martin Schultz, a German Social Democrat member, said everything should be done to stop Le Pen presiding at Parliament’s opening on July 14, which also marks the French national day.

“It is disturbing that a Holocaust denier should preside at the opening of the European Parliament,” said Schultz in an interview with AFP.

He added that it was “unacceptable” that someone for whom “Auschwitz is a mere detail of history” should take such an exalted position in Europe, calling Le Pen “an old fascist”.

Le Pen says he's "persecuted" by the "cosmopolitan left"

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Le Pen slammed the efforts to prevent him from chairing the European Parliament, saying that the controversy was hypothetical.

“These new manoeuvres by the cosmopolitan left are grotesque, especially since nothing says I will even be the senior-most member of Parliament,” Le Pen told France 24. “I will be very astonished if the efforts of a clumsy ‘60s-era radical such as Cohn-Bendit succeed,” thundered the FN head, who added that he was being “persecuted by the European Parliament for political reasons”.

Oldies called up to battle Le Pen

In a bid to upstage Le Pen, the pressure group One City, which campaigns for Strasbourg to be the sole seat of the European Parliament, contacted European parties in February to encourage them to put forward candidates who are older than Le Pen.

“We haven’t received any answers so far,” said One City president Pierre Savreux. “However, it would be unacceptable for the sake of the history of the union that we let Le Pen chair the new parliament in 2009.”

Date created : 2009-03-24