Marine Le Pen’s party in talks to join Viktor Orbán’s group in European parliament

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France’s Rassemblement National is in talks to join a new group with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán in the European parliament as far-right parties are jostling to convert their votes into power.

The RN, which is forecast to win the most seats in Sunday’s French legislative elections, will decide whether to ally with the Patriots for Europe group on Monday, three people familiar with the situation told the Financial Times.

Orbán’s Patriots group on Saturday gained its seventh member party, meeting the threshold to form an official faction under the EU parliament’s rules.

If the RN joins with its 30 MEPs, the Patriots are likely to overtake the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) to become the third-largest group in parliament.

Vox, the Spanish hard-right party that counts six MEPs, quit ECR for the Patriots on Friday. The Freedom party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Danish People’s party, which have seven MEPs between them, also said they would join the Patriots.

The ECR, dominated by Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, relegated the Renew group built around Emmanuel Macron’s centrists into fourth position last month, but has now dropped to 78 members. Renew has 76 members.

But the proliferation of right-wing groups also means their dreams of a super-merger that would wield significant power in the EU assembly appear to be over.

“Anything that furthers the interests of Patriots in the EU parliament is good for us. Orbán is a fine politician who has the skills to operate at the EU level,” said one RN official.

Zoltán Kóvacs, Orbán’s spokesman, told journalists to “stay alert in the next few days”.

Alternative for Germany leader Alice Weidel, whose MEPs were expelled from the outgoing Identity and Democracy group dominated by the RN, told the FT last week she was also seeking to form a group — potentially based on the remains of ID.

But it remains unclear whether the AfD will manage to secure MEPs from enough countries, given that four parties have now left ID for the Patriots.

Russia is the main dividing line between the Patriots and AfD on the one hand, and the ECR on the other. Meloni is a strong defender of Ukraine, while Orbán, Le Pen and Weidel have traditionally held more pro-Moscow views.

The Hungarian leader met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, causing outcry among EU leaders who said he did not represent them, just after he made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday.

On Wednesday the Russian foreign ministry posted on social media what appeared to be a congratulatory message for the RN, featuring a photo of Le Pen celebrating her first-round victory.

“The people of France are seeking a sovereign foreign policy that serves their national interests and a break from the dictate of Washington and Brussels,” said the post. 

Le Pen, who has long tried to counter criticism that she is too pro-Russia, criticised the post on TF1 news on Thursday. “I absolutely do not feel responsible for Russian provocations towards France,” she said, adding it was “a form of interference”.  

However, Orbán said earlier this week he was confident the Patriots group would grow “faster than anyone thinks now” after the second round of the French elections.

“You will see . . . those who promised to join and create a pan-European faction, the third largest, then the second largest. Later we will attempt to be the largest but that won’t be this year.”

He will combine his group’s power in parliament with his country having just taken the six-month rotating presidency of the bloc, which allows his ministers to set the agenda of meetings.

The centre-right European People’s party is the largest in the 720-strong parliament with 188 members, followed by the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, with 136. Party size dictates how many coveted positions such as committee chairs and vice-presidents they get. 

However, MEPs still vote on the positions, and the pro-European majority, including Renew, the Greens and other parties, operates a “cordon sanitaire” to reject any far-right candidates. They also voted to divvy up committee chairmanships based on group size on July 4, before the Patriots are constituted.  

The ECR secured one committee chair and one vice-president during the last term because they came from its more moderate parties.

“No one beyond the cordon sanitaire can chair a committee,” senior Socialist MEP Alex Agius Saliba told the FT. 

But János Bóka, Hungary’s Europe minister, told journalists that there would be “an institutionally and politically strengthened right in the European parliament and in an ideal world, this should be reflected in the distribution of positions”.

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