French far right leader Marine Le Pen joined other anti-immigration populist leaders from around Europe for a May Day gathering aimed at energising their campaigns for next year’s European Parliament elections.
Populist leaders including Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, Harald Vilimsky of Austria’s Freedom Party and prominent Czech nationalist Tomio Okamura descended on Nice as part of a joint effort to highlight the gains far-right parties have acquired across the continent recently.
The head of Italy’s nationalist Northern League party Matteo Salvini declined his invitation but will send a video message of support — as he attempts to form join a coalition government following this year’s inconclusive elections where many Italian voters shunned the mainstream parties.
Ms Le Pen laid a wreath at a monument of France’s nationalist icon Joan of Arc in Cannes before heading to nearby Nice where she will meet with the other senior figures of the European far-right.
Ms Le Pen used Nice — a French Riviera hub that boasts a diverse population — to forward her anti-immigration stance, saying it has “suffered from very strong pressure from migration that has partly changed the face” of the city.
France’s National Front has been struggling since a surge in support, but subsequent defeat, in last year’s presidential election that chose centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Since then, Ms Le Pen has been trying to cleanse it of the racist stigma that has clung to its image while maintaining the party’s core closed-borders agenda.
Earlier this year, the party severed its final ties with firebrand founder Jean-Marie Le Pen — Ms Le Pen’s 89-year-old father — by eliminating his title of honorary president-for-life.
Mr Le Pen held a parallel ceremony at a statue of Joan of Arc in Paris.
In March, former White House strategist Steve Bannon tried to re-energise the party by speaking at a congress in France.
Some commentators warned that support from figures like Mr Bannon could hinder the party’s rebranding efforts.