A new extreme-right group, including veteran French firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen and Mussolini's granddaughter, has been formally created in the European parliament, parliamentary president Josep Borrell announced.
The "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty," group which "slightly changes the political geography of our parliament" has fulfilled the conditions for its formal recognition, said Borrell at the start of a plenary session in Strasbourg.
Those rules include the requirement that at least 20 MEPs from five EU member states sign up for the new political group. The formal setting up of the bloc allows it various rights including receiving official funding of around one million euros ($770,000) and certain speaking rights.
French National Front MEP Bruno Gollnisch will lead the new far right bloc, whose founding principles include recognizing "national interests, sovereignties, identities and differences," and opposing a "unitary, bureaucratic, European superstate."
Its platform also includes commitments to Christian and traditional family values.
New members made it possible
Members of the EU Parliament have been called upon to prevent the new group from getting senior positions
The membership includes seven members of the French National Front, including Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen. Its formation was made possible by the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU on Jan.1, as five Romanian MEPs have signed up as well as a Bulgarian.
There are also three Belgian deputies from the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party, including its president Franck Vanhecke.
The membership list also includes Austrian Andreas Molzer, British MEP Ashley Mote and Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Italian wartime dictator Benito Mussolini.
Socialist Group leader Martin Schulz immediately questioned the group's legitimacy, asking whether it adhered to the rules of parliament which stipulate that the members of a group must share a political position.
But Borrell rejected the call for an enquiry into the group's legitimacy, noting that the 20 members had all signed a political declaration.
Schulz, nonetheless, called on MEPs to prevent the new far-right group from securing senior positions in the European Parliament.
Immediately after the announcement of the 20-member group's formation, Schulz wrote to fellow leaders of the parliament's democratic groups, urging them to deny the new group posts under the proportional system of appointment.
"We must not abandon this parliament, which symbolizes the integration of Europe, to those who deny all European values," he said.
France's most famous far-right politician, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is a member
After reports that he had been described as a "totalitarian" by Gollnisch, Schulz said: "To be attacked by a man who is a Holocaust denier and who represents the neo-fascist movement is an honor for me."
In his letter to other group leaders, Schulz said that while the new group would enjoy the privileges and staffing normally given to a political group they should not be approved as vice-presidents of parliamentary committees.
It is not the first time that the far-right has had a bloc in the assembly. Le Pen led the Group of the European Right from 1984 to 1989, and the Technical Group of the European Right from 1989 to 1994.