France's Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands' Geert Wilders and Germany's Frauke Petry were all present
Le Pen described the European Union as an "anti-democratic oligarchy"
Swelling music and angry rhetoric, straight from the Donald Trump inauguration playbook, were prominent Saturday as Europe’s nationalist parties gathered under the banner “Europe of Nations and Freedom” – their political bloc in the European Union parliament.
The big stars: France’s Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and Germany’s Frauke Petry, each of them contesting elections this year. One large banner trumpeted “2017: The Year of the Patriots.”
Le Pen led the charge with a speech that promised an end to the European Union. She described the EU as a monstrous “chimera” and an “anti-democratic oligarchy” that France needed to leave.
“The day after my election, I will address the European Union and ask for the return of our four sovereign powers,” she said, naming them as territory, currency, economy and legislative.
“Without those there is no freedom for the people and no capacity to implement the necessary reforms,” Le Pen said. “Because it is not about allowing a self-declared supranational structure to remove the laws that the people decided on.”
She also cited similarities between Trump’s inauguration speech and the message of the conference leaders to reclaim national sovereignty.
Conference attendees chant ‘lying press’
The conference opened, not with soaring words, but a sharp attack on the media that set an unnerving note:
Marcus Pretzel of the far-right Alternative For Germany (AFD), singled out the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper and several other local German media, which had been excluded from the conference, to make clear they were not welcome.
The crowd responded with wild applause and chants of “luggenpresse” or “lying press” – the German catchphrase used in Nazi propaganda to smash dissent.
There were a few hundred in attendance, mostly AFD supporters. They cheered on their candidate, Frauke Petry, with shouts of “Merkel must go.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the second most talked about leader in the speeches, after US President Donald Trump. While Merkel’s decision to allow in hundreds of thousand of a refugees last year was deemed “catastrophic,” Trump, on the other hand, was hailed for his victory in the presidential election.
Petry: We don’t want this diversity
Petry’s speech was more philosophical, rather than a rousing campaign speech, but she made clear that opposing immigration was her priority:
“Mass migration is sold to us as ‘diversity.’ Well, we don’t want this ‘diversity’ that Brussels dictates to us.”
“Together with patriots of Europe, the nation state will come back,” Petry told the crowd. “But we have to be courageous to rethink Europe and Europe’s freedom.”
It was the notoriously anti-Islam Wilders who spelled out the threat, as he saw it: “blonde” Europeans, he said, were in danger of becoming “strangers in their own countries” because of “islamization.”
But, just as in the United States against Trump’s inauguration, large counter-protests were mobilized against the message of the conference. While delegates applauded Le Pen, Wilders and Petry inside the conference venue, thousands of protesters outside chanted “Neo-nazis out!” and promised to continue demonstrating throughout the elections this year.
It may or may not become the so-called “Year of the Patriots,” but it will almost certainly be a tumultuous year in politics for Europe.