Far-right parties eye gains in next year's EU parliament elections

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission in Brussels

By Alvise Armellini

ROME (Reuters) -European far-right parties met in Italy on Sunday vowing to reshape the European Union after next year's European Parliament elections, toughening the bloc's approach on immigration and softening its climate policies to protect jobs and industry.

Parties from around a dozen countries gathered in Florence, galvanised by last month's general elections in the Netherlands, which handed a surprise win to Geert Wilders' anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV).

"Our objective is for (us) to become at least the third-largest (group in the EU parliament), after the centre-right and the socialists, and to be decisive," said Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who hosted the meeting.

The far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group is now the sixth-largest in the EU assembly, also behind liberal, green and conservative groups, but current polling data place it in fourth position.

Salvini, who has failed to include in his alliance Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her poll-leading Brothers of Italy party, fronted a previous unsuccessful push in 2019 for a far-right breakthrough in EU elections.

Addressing the Florence rally via video link, Wilders said he hoped his success, "a political earthquake in the Netherlands and Europe," could be "the start of a wave of national election wins" for like-minded allies.

Wilders hailed Salvini, leader of the League party, as an inspiration and his "number one Italian friend."

Salvini hit out against the EU decision to ban new CO2-emitting cars from 2035, and was backed by the co-leader of Alternative for Germany (AfD) Tino Chrupalla, who called for an "end to the war against cars."

Jordan Bardella, president of Marine Le Pen's National Rally party, won applause speaking in Italian and saying that Europe cannot become a "5-star hostel for Africa", and linking mass immigration to violence and crime.

There was less unity on other issues. Wilders condemned excessive public spending while Salvini railed against euro zone budget discipline rules, and German and Austrian far-righters broke ranks on the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts.

"Ukraine cannot win this war, they should stop it," Chrupalla said, blaming EU sanctions on Russia for depressing the German economy and calling for a resumption of Russian gas imports via the Nord Stream pipeline.

"In our opinion, the support we are giving in the war in Ukraine is wrong, and it is equally wrong to support Israel's war against (the Palestinians)," Harald Vilimsky of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) said.

Salvini, once a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that his party had "clearly supported every intervention in defence of Ukraine, with facts, votes and money."

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)