Europe’s Nationalists Rally in Show of Force as Trump Sets Tone

  • Anti-Islam, anti-euro parties sharpen election-year campaign
  • Ending ‘monstrosity’ of EU is shared goal: France’s Le Pen

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, speaks to journalists during the inauguration of her presidential campaign headquarters in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Hours after Donald Trump’s swearing in as U.S. president, across the Atlantic in Germany some of his radical European cheerleaders will gather in a bid to emulate his route to power.

Nationalists including the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party are among those who will mount a show of force in the western German town of Koblenz on Saturday as they seek to build election momentum of their own by denouncing the European Union, its shared currency and immigration.

Whereas a meeting of the populist right would once have been dismissed as a sideshow, Europe’s anti-establishment parties are drawing inspiration from Trump’s unexpected rise and the surprise victory of Brexit supporters in last year’s U.K. referendum. With Europe facing an unprecedented year of elections culminating in Germany in September, Le Pen and her political allies are spearheading the most sustained challenge to Europe’s status quo since the end of the Cold War.

“The Koblenz meeting is a marker for the nationalist and populist parties to tell Europe they are the alternative to the pro-market, pro-EU liberal right,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs. “They believe that with Trump and Brexit, the moment to boost their profile has come.”

It’s a fringe that’s moved to the political mainstream: Le Pen is the French presidential election’s first-round front-runner in a poll published this week, while Wilders’s anti-Islam, anti-EU party may win the most seats in Dutch parliamentary elections on March 15. Both are scheduled to address the rally, along with Frauke Petry, co-leader of the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party, and Italy’s Northern League chief Matteo Salvini.

For a guide to the Dutch elections in six charts, click here

Imports, Migrants

The goal of Koblenz “is to decide the contours of the Europe of tomorrow, the Europe of sovereignty and liberty, to replace this monstrosity that is the European Union,” Le Pen said on Friday in a Radio Classique interview. “What unites us is the rejection of the laissez-faire and complacency of the EU, with its borders totally open to imports and migrants.”

The political and market risks posed by Europe’s elections were a topic at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said he had hoped EU leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if politicians such as Le Pen rise to power, “the euro zone may not survive,” Dimon said in a Bloomberg Television interview with John Micklethwait.

May Runoff

For all the usual caveats about polling errors, surveys suggest that Le Pen, the daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, is in the lead ahead of the election’s first round on April 23, though no poll has yet suggested she could win the runoff on May 7. She had between 25 percent and 26 percent support, with Republican candidate Francois Fillon second at 23 percent to 25 percent, according to a Le Monde poll of voter intentions.

In the Netherlands, polls suggest Wilders’s party would get between 29 and 34 of the 150 seats in parliament. However, his chances of becoming prime minister are limited as almost all of the larger parties have ruled out coalitions with the Freedom Party.

Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat who has led Europe’s biggest economy for more than 11 years, is running for a fourth term as German chancellor in September. Spurred by the arrival of more than 1 million refugees in the country since 2015, Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is polling ahead of the Greens and the anti-capitalist Left Party, suggesting it would be the third-biggest party in parliament if elections were held now.

Sponsored by the Europe of Nations and Freedom group of parties, the rally is being held in a city at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers that’s known for a monument to Prussian king William I, who was crowned emperor of a united Germany in Versailles in 1871 after his army defeated France. Nowadays, the statue serves as a symbol of Germany’s peaceful east-west reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

— With assistance by Corina Ruhe

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