Right-Wing European Leaders Plan to Form New Pan-Continental Party

Right-wing leaders from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and France announced plans Friday to form a pan-European nationalist party, drawing a stinging rebuke from leftists who called it "completely absurd."

The plan for the new "European Liberty Party" was announced in Vienna by Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria's Freedom Party; Jean-Marie Le Pen of France's extreme-right National Front; Frank Vanhecke of Belgium's Flemish Interest Party; and Volen Siderov, the head of Bulgaria's ultranationalist Ataka party.

Organizers pledged to pull in right-wing parties from at least three other countries and surpass the 20-seat threshold to enter the European Parliament.

"Patriots of all countries: Unite!" declared Strache, whose party in the past has been accused of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic statements.

Strache told reporters he hopes to pull together right-wing parties from 10 European nations by mid-November and form a bloc that would see it as its mission "to rescue the Western world" from Islam and other perceived threats.

"We are neither on the right nor on the left," he said.

But Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer's Social Democrats denounced the proposal to found "a nationalistic, anti-European party" out of step with the 27-nation EU's attempts to be tolerant and inclusive.

"The project of European integration aims to be a peaceful cooperation of EU member states who unmistakably oppose nationalism," said Elisabeth Grossmann, a leading Social Democrat official. The right-wing leaders' plans, she said, were "completely absurd and contradictory."

Johannes Voggenhuber, a senior member of Austria's opposition Green Party, said the Freedom Party's alliance with groups such as the National Front and the Flemish Interest Party proves that it remains "a right-wing, extremist, nationalist party on the fringes of Europe."

Friday's announcement was seen as an attempt to revive the former right-wing European bloc known as ITS, or Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty.

It disbanded in November after the Greater Romania Party pulled out, leaving it without the 20 seats it needed to form a faction in the European Parliament.

Popular support for the Freedom Party has shrunk significantly since 1999, when it won 27 percent of the vote in national elections and joined Austria's coalition government the following year, triggering months of EU diplomatic sanctions.

Strache has sought to distance himself from former Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider, who gained notoriety for mocking Jews and praising some of Hitler's labor policies.