MILAN (AP) — Sharing the stage with leaders of other European populist parties, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Friday that Europe's nationalist parties are ready to step in and clean up when European structures fail under current immigration and monetary policies.
Le Pen spoke at the end of the first meeting of the Europe of Nations and Freedom group within the European Parliament, which was formed last summer. The 36-member parliamentary group is the smallest in the European Parliament, but includes some parties gaining strength in the polls in their home countries.
At a news conference, Le Pen along with populist leaders from host Italy, the Netherlands and Austria expressed their common view that Europe's borders must be closed to mass migration from the Middle East and Africa and said that sovereignty over such policies must be restored to nations. They cited both the threat of terrorism and the strain on budgets.
Outside, several hundred students peacefully protested the presence of a gathering they saw as racist.
"European structures that were poorly constructed are crumbling everywhere," Le Pen said. "But I have to say to European citizens that they have nothing to fear in the end of this ancient world. To the contrary, they can hope for the return of the nations and their freedom."
Also attending the Milan event Thursday and Friday were leaders of nationalist parties from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic.
Le Pen said the parties represented on the stage in Milan "are part of the future" and expressed a conviction that they won't always be relegated to the opposition.
She also said a decision by Italian officials to cover ancient statues depicting nude figures in deference to the visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was "ridiculous."