With major national elections less than two months away, prominent European nationalists gathered in Koblenz, Germany Saturday for a 2017 populism kick-off conference. The gathering was a meeting of Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), a European Parliament group that includes the likes of France’s National Front, Holland’s Party of Freedom and Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland.
The various nationalist parties are united in their opposition to the European Union. Opposition to mass migration and political Islam are likewise tenets of ENF.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front and a French presidential candidate, is the most prominent figure in the group. Le Pen, who is currently projected to make it to the final round of the French presidential election in early May, said at Sunday’s event that 2017 would be a “year of awakening of the people of continental Europe.”
“We are experiencing the end of one world and the birth of another,” AFP quoted Le Pen as saying. “We are experiencing the return of the nation-states.”
Geert Wilders, the Dutch Party of Freedom leader, attended the gathering as well. Parliamentary elections in The Netherlands are less than two months away, and the Party of Freedom is polling neck and neck with Holland’s ruling party.
German Bundestag elections are due to take place this fall. Alternative For Deutschland is expected to take away a significant share of votes from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. That could propel Germany’s leftists into power. Frauke Petry, the leader of Alternative For Deutschland also attended Saturday’s event.
Left-wing protesters demonstrated outside the ENF meeting and called for the end of borders, deportations and the nation-state.
Also on Saturday, left-leaning demonstrators walked in a worldwide Women’s March, showing their opposition to United States President Donald Trump. Days prior to his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump predicted more member states would leave the EU.
The United Kingdom is the lone EU state that is currently planning an exit from the union. This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her plan for a “hard Brexit,” in which the UK would split from the EU both politically and economically.
More EU states could hold membership referenda if nationalist factions rise to power. ENF members are also calling referenda on eurozone membership.
Dutch parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 15.