AMSTERDAM Eurosceptics Geert Wilders of the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen of France will discuss closer cooperation on Wednesday in a bid to capitalize on voter frustration with mainstream politics before 2014 European parliament elections.
The two anti-euro, anti-immigration politicians have talked of joining forces for months to win a wider pan-European stage. Europe's nationalist parties have historically struggled to overcome differences and form long-lasting alliances.
Le Pen, who will meet Wilders in the Dutch political capital of The Hague, wants to build ties with like-minded politicians in other countries. Her trip is part of a domestic strategy to make her party more acceptable to French voters and to capitalize on their rising dissatisfaction with the EU.
"Allies identify her as the flag-bearer for a different version of Europe," said Ludovic de Danne, Le Pen's foreign policy adviser.
Le Pen's National Front was shown in a poll last month winning more votes than any other French party in European parliament elections next May. Wilders' Freedom Party, which slumped in last year's general election, has now bounced back to take the lead in Dutch opinion polls.
Le Pen, a tough-talking former lawyer, invited Wilders to Paris earlier this year to persuade him to join the European Alliance for Freedom, a group of euro-skeptic parties trying to build a bloc in the European parliament. So far, his party has not joined the grouping.
Her visit to the Netherlands aims to deepen links between two parties that reject deeper integration in the European Union and want to tighten border controls for immigrants.
"The goal is to convince all parties critical of Europe of the need to weigh into the European political process," de Danne said. "We expect excellent results (in the 2014 vote)."
Le Pen has sought to rid her party of overt neo-Nazis and racists and has distanced herself from the anti-Semitic remarks of her father. But a string of embarrassing scandals over racism among party members could still make her an unappealing partner for Wilders in the eyes of his backers and supporters.
Wilders, who is anti-Islam, has been funded by The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israeli think tank based in Philadelphia: the group funded Wilders' legal defense in 2010 and 2011 against Dutch charges of inciting racial hatred.
(Reporting by Sara Webb and Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; editing by Mark John)