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Europe

Le Pen leads far-right European rally in southern France

media Marine Le Pen (C-L), leader of the French far-right, along with party leaders attend a national ceremony for late Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, France, March 28, 2018. Reuters/Ludovic Marin

France's Marine Le Pen was set to lead a rally of far-right European partners in southern France on Tuesday to denounce the EU and celebrate gains for nationalist movements across the continent.

The gathering on the May 1st public holiday in the city of Nice will be attended by the secretary general of Austria's FPOe, Harald Vilimsky, whose party is a ruling coalition partner and entered into government in December.

The head of Italy's eurosceptic League party, Matteo Salvini, whose movement is vying to form a government in the politically deadlocked country, was invited but will instead send a video message of support.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders is also expected, as are representatives from Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Greece.

"The European Union is having catastrophic consequences on our country, but another Europe is possible, a union of nations which we wish for," Le Pen told France Bleu Azur radio on Tuesday morning.

A counter-demonstration against the far-right, organised by leftist and anti-racism groups, is expected in Nice at a site some distance from Le Pen's rally.

As well as successes for the far-right in Austria and Italy, the AfD in Germany garnered almost 13 percent of the vote in September's election last year, while Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban was re-elected with a thumping majority last month on a far-right platform.

Despite the historic strength of ultra-nationalist support in France, the National Front has under-performed at the ballot box, largely due to the country's electoral system.

Le Pen suffered stinging back-to-back defeats in presidential and parliamentary elections in France last year and has since struggled to reassert herself.

Drawing the lessons of her failure in the presidential election, she has modified her policies on Europe and the euro common currency.

Instead of calling for exiting the European Union, she favours transforming it into a club of nations that work together independently -- without the federal architecture and controls from Brussels.

French surveys show that only a minority of French people favour leaving the EU and scrapping the euro currency, which Le Pen campaigned for last year.

Le Pen is set to lay a wreath at the statue of Joan of Arc in Cannes, the French national icon who helped defeat English forces in the 15th century who has been adopted as a mascot by the French far-right.

Le Pen's estranged father Jean-Marie will hold a separate and rival ceremony at a statue of Joan of Arc in central Paris.

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