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A Surging Hard Right Stumbles Over Its Own Divisions

A Surging Hard Right Stumbles Over Its Own Divisions
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Elections starting this week for the European Parliament could leave far-right parties with more power than ever, but also expose the fissures among them.

Marine Le Pen with others waving French flags as sparks surround them.
The leaders of France’s far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, in March in Marseille. The party is expecting a strong showing in the European elections.Credit…Daniel Cole/Associated Press

Nationalists are surging and expected to make big gains when voters from 27 nations cast ballots starting this week for the European Parliament. But the prospect of success is already raising the question among far-right parties of how far is too far.

That question has become pressing as popular hard-right parties, especially in Italy and France, try to make themselves more palatable to the mainstream, splitting those who have sanitized and gained acceptability from those who are still considered taboo.

Today, the hard right is a movement marbled by fissures and shifting alliances.

Last year, Marine Le Pen, the French nationalist, seemed to disparage Italy’s hard-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who since coming to power has tried to make herself a trustworthy partner for mainstream conservatives. “Meloni is not my twin sister,” she had told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, making it clear she considered herself more hard line.

Now, Ms. Le Pen has offered to form an alliance in the European Parliament, though it is not clear if Ms. Meloni wants to allow her to ride her coattails, as Ms. Le Pen’s party is still scorned by many in the European center right.

Ms. Le Pen, for her part, has distanced herself from Alternative for Germany, or AfD, a far-right party that appears to have become too extreme even for its fellow travelers. In May, Ms. Le Pen and her group in the European Parliament, none of them shy about nationalism, kicked the AfD out after one of its leaders made statements that seemed to justify membership by some in the SS, the Nazi paramilitary force.

“Throwing the AfD under the bus was a fantastic political gift” for Ms. Le Pen, said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a political analyst in Brussels and a senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research organization. “She can position herself as ‘not the far right.’”

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