Nazi Salute for BNP

Nazi Salute for BNP

An official group requires at least 25 MEPs from a minimum of seven countries to be entitled to a slice of the €26.3 million cake for political blocs as well as guaranteed speaking rights and automatic seats on important committees.

The gains for the far Right came in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and the UK. Extremist right-wing parties lost ground in Belgium, Bulgaria and France but still won seats.

Despite the far Right's success in many countries, it may struggle to reach the crucial benchmark of 25 MEPs, raised from 20 in the last session.

Prominent candidates for an alliance with the BNP, besides Mr Le Pen, include Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary), which won three MEPs with 15 per cent of the vote. The group is the founder of the Hungarian Guard, a uniformed paramilitary body. It campaigns on nationalistic and anti-immigrant themes, while denying being fascistic.

The Greater Romania Party won two seats, up from none, although it had five observer MEPs before the first elections in 2007 when Romania joined the EU and helped to form a short-lived far-right bloc in the last parliamentary session.

Called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS), the group broke up after 11 months in a row about xenophobic insults. The Greater Romanian MEPs stormed out after remarks by Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the war-time fascist ruler of Italy, who said that all Romanians were criminals. Now that Ms Mussolini has joined Silvio Berlusconi's alliance of right-wing parties, there may be grounds for a rapprochement.

In Austria the Freedom Party, which picked up two seats on 13.4 per cent of the vote, will be another of those considered for a far-right grouping, as will the Greek Popular Orthodox Rally, or LAOS grouping, led by the journalist Georgios Karatzaferis. It doubled its representation from one to two MEPs, with about 7 per cent of the vote.

Other former ITS members include Attack in Bulgaria, with two MEPs, and Flemish Interest in Belgium, also now with two MEPs.

Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League also doubled its representation, from four to eight MEPs, but has a tradition of sitting with the right-wing nationalist/regionalist Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) group in the European Parliament, along with the Danish People's Party, which won two seats and is wary of linking itself with other extremists.

However, the UEN is breaking up, with Fianna Fáil from Ireland joining the Liberal group and several parties, including Poland's Law and Justice and Latvia's For Fatherland and Freedom (known for its support of the country's Waffen SS veterans) set to join British Conservative MEPs in a new anti-federalist group.

One populist party that is likely to spurn a neo-fascist group that includes the BNP is the Freedom Party of the maverick Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was banned from entering Britain and turned back at Heathrow in February for his offensive views. It won four seats in the Netherands to become the country's second-largest party, but has so far kept a distance from other fringe parties across Europe in an attempt to appeal more to mainstream voters.

Despite the rivalry and factionalism on the far Right, anti-fascist campaigners view its gains in this election with deep concern.

"The far-right growth is a really bad sign, and this is clearly linked to the economic crash," Gerry Gable, the editor of Searchlight, an anti-fascist monthly magazine, said. "This is the entirely predictable result of the social fall-out of the financial crisis. It is a particularly worrying trend."