France's National Front announced Tuesday it had formed a new far-right bloc in the European Parliament that will qualify for up to nearly $20 million in funding over the next four years.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the FN, said the group would be called Europe of Nations and Freedoms.
Her allies share Le Pen's desire to curb immigration and the influence of Islam in Europe -- a concern that critics have described as xenophobic. They include the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Freedom Party of Austria, Italy's Lega Nord and Vlaams Belang from Belgium as well as lawmakers from the Polish KNP party.
At a press conference in Brussels, Le Pen described it as a "political strike force that will go far beyond our previous situation." She said far-right parties like the FN had “growing support” in Europe.
“This group is the result of a year of efforts, and our wish to avoid making dubious alliances like other groups. It’s good news for our countries, our people, our freedom,” she said.
Geert Wilders, a member of the European Parliament from the Dutch Freedom Party, told reporters: "Today is D-day, it’s the beginning of our liberation. ... I really believe today is a historical moment."
He added: "We are the voice of the European resistance, we defend national identity, our prosperity and our sovereignty. This is an excellent day because we will gain influence in the European Parliament with the newly formed group."
Wilders then addressed the European far-right’s major concerns: immigration and Islam. "The timing is right. A catastrophe is coming to the European Union and Europe today,” he said. “One million people are trying to arrive from northern Africa and this mass immigration should be stopped.”
He said the group would fight the “Islamization" of the continent and “stand for our own national values.”
As well as more money, the group will get more speaking time during European parliamentary sessions, more staff and access to key posts increasing its influence across the continent.
Reaction from more centrist European parties was dour. A German member of the European Parliament, Herbert Reul of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party, told journalists it was a "bad day for Europe."
European Parliament groups must be made up of at least 25 members from at least seven countries.
Marine Le Pen failed to form a group after the European elections last year even though there was a leap in support for far-right candidates across the European Union. In France, her FN came first with almost a quarter of the vote, gaining a total of 24 members of the European Parliament.
Le Pen’s new group has gathered 36 members of the Parliament, more than half of them French. The FN had been struggling to find a member from a seventh country. But on Tuesday, Janice Atkinson, a British European parliamentarian who was expelled from her country's right-wing Independence Party following questions over expenses claims, announced she was joining Europe of Nations and Freedoms.
Atkinson, who will become the new group's vice president, said it was a "historic day for all in Britain and across Europe who stand opposed to the European super state."
By mustering wide support from like-minded politicians in other countries, Le Pen put an end to the previous situation in which the FN, Europe's most popular far-right party, stood alone with no real power or influence in the European Parliament.
According to the think tank Open Europe, the new group can apply for an annual grant of more than $3 million for setting up and running costs, as well as $4.99 million of European Union money annually that is allocated to political foundations or think tanks.
The money cannot be used to pay for electioneering costs or referendums, apart from European elections.
After a major political and personal falling out, the National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen -- Marine's father, who has been suspended from the French FN -- will not be part of the new group despite being a member of the European Parliament.
Britain's Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage, succeeded in gaining the necessary support to form a group last year, but refused to join forces with the FN because of "prejudice and anti-Semitism" in the French party. His bloc is seen as a rival to the new Europe of Nations and Freedoms.
Willsher is a special correspondent