Far-right party leaders meet in Prague ahead of EU vote

Prague (AFP) –


Prague will on Thursday host a meeting of populist far-right party leaders seeking unprecedented success in European elections next month following a steep rise of anti-EU movements across Europe.

France's National Rally head Marine Le Pen and Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders are among the speakers, while Italian League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini will send a video message.

A Czech far-right band will open the event at Prague's central Wenceslas Square, hosted by Czech lawmaker Tomio Okamura, who is head of the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party.

"On Thursday, the SPD will officially launch the EU election campaign. We want to show that we're not alone," Okamura told AFP.

"Polls have shown our Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) faction led by Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Austria's Freedom Party and others has a chance to form one of the strongest groups in the European Parliament," he said.

"This would enable us to implement fundamental changes aimed at ensuring the freedom and sovereignty of individual European states without orders from Brussels."

Parties in the faction, including Alternative for Germany (AfD) or Denmark's People's Party, share anti-migrant policies, promote national sovereignty and individual freedoms.

The SPD, which has never taken part in EU elections and has thus no deputies in Strasbourg, favours a "Czexit" from the EU, just like Wilders's PVV promotes a "Nexit".

The anti-system parties got their last boost a week ago when the Finns Party came a narrow second in a general election in Finland.

- 'They will be strong' -

Salvini, who visited Okamura in Prague earlier this month, has recently called on nationalist parties scattered across the European Parliament to join forces and form a new alliance.

He said he expected the new bloc to be the largest in the 751-member parliament after the May 23-26 vote.

These parties "will get there, they will be strong, they will do very well in the election, especially in Italy for instance," said Czech independent political analyst Jan Kubacek.

"But the problem with all these groups is that they cannot really cooperate, they are too focussed on their national interests," he told AFP.

If the alliance emerges after the vote, it will have to pick a leader with Le Pen and Salvini looking set to battle it out for the post.

"Salvini will have the upper hand in policymaking, the more so that he will most probably become prime minister," said Kubacek.

"Le Pen will be very active in the European Parliament -- she can't really show her best in French politics so she uses the parliament as her second platform."

Le Pen, Wilders and Okamura already met in Prague in December 2017 to hail the SPD's gain of 22 seats in the 200-member Czech parliament in general elections.

It impressed voters with an anti-migrant campaign, although migrants have largely snubbed the Czech Republic for wealthier countries such as Germany, and "No to Islam" is its key motto for the EU vote too.

- Low turnout -

But whether the SPD will make it to the European Parliament remains a question, mainly because of traditionally low turnout.

"The SPD has an election potential of 10 percent, according to sociologists -- but with turnout at 19 or 20 percent, it will gain about three percent support in the vote," Kubacek said.

"Okamura must do his best to make the voters go and propel the SPD over the five percent threshold."

The 47-year-old Tokyo-born former entrepreneur remains optimistic about his EU candidates led by psychiatrist Ivan David.

"Any mandate will be a success. But it would be great if we could get close to our general election result (from 2017), which was almost 11 percent," Okamura said.

"And of course I would like our faction to win the EU vote."

Salvini has convened a big meeting of the anti-EU parties to Milan for May 18, with Le Pen and Okamura expected to take part.

"The meeting should be a pan-European demonstration of the ability of European nations to closely cooperate without a dictate from Brussels, merely on the basis of mutual agreement," Okamura told AFP.