A meeting of nationalist leaders sows division in Europe

A day after President Trump's inauguration, European right-wing leaders met in Koblenz, Germany, to issue a rallying cry for voters to upset the establishment in key elections across the continent. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports that their message, seeking to benefit from the “Trump effect,” emphasizes the growing divisions within Europe.

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    One day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, European right-wing leaders issued a rallying cry for voters to help them upset the establishment in key elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

    Anti-immigration policies, strong border controls and disdain for the bureaucrats of the European Union binds together these various groups. They met in the German city of Koblenz, led by the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

    But as special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports, the message of those wanting to benefit from the so-called Trump effect is deepening Europe's divisions.


    It was a triumphalist entrance for politicians aspiring to repeat Donald Trump's unexpected success.

    The controversial leader of France's National Front hopes to be propelled into the presidency this spring by her anti-immigration stance and promise of a Brexit-style referendum on French membership of the European Union.

  • MARINE LE PEN, National Front, France (through interpreter):

    The very first blow to the old order, the one factor that will have the rest of Europe falling like dominoes is Brexit. A sovereign people has decided to get rid of the powerful's argument, to be able to decide by itself on its own fate.


  • MARINE LE PEN (through interpreter):

    The second blow wasn't far behind. Trump's election as the United States president put the supporters of neo-liberalism in even greater difficulty.


    On German soil, Le Pen took aim at the leader all anti-immigrant parties blame for Europe's refugee crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

  • MARINE LE PEN (through interpreter):

    Mrs. Merkel is presented as a humanitarian heroine.


  • MARINE LE PEN (through interpreter):

    If they asked the Germans if they were happy, everyone would see that this migration policy is a daily catastrophe.


    The crowd chanted, "Merkel must go," and lapped up the speech by Geert Wilders, a fervent critic of Islam, leader of Holland's Freedom Party, and in contention to be the next Dutch prime minister.

  • GEERT WILDERS, Freedom Party, The Netherlands (through interpreter):

    A new America, today, Koblenz, tomorrow, a new Europe.


    At a packed news conference, he had these words for critics of Europe's right wing.


    We will not stop. The people will not stop. Whether the old-fashioned politicians or the friends of the press like it or not, it will not be stopped. The genie will not go back into the bottle again, whether you like it or not.


    Of all the nationalists grouping here, it is the Alternative for Germany Party which appears to be faltering, although it remains the third most popular in the country.

    After the Christmas market truck massacre in Berlin, there was a surge in support. But that appears to have been temporary, as, according to the latest opinion polls, its national approval numbers are down to 11 percent.

    And the reason for that appears to be that Chancellor Merkel's government has promised a new raft of security measures, including the fast deportation of criminal refugees and migrants.

    Providing more workers for Germany's powerhouse economy was one of Merkel's justifications for her open door immigration policy. With elections looming this autumn, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union is perceived as having a steadier hand on the tiller of prosperity than the untested AFD, or Alternative for Germany Party.

    At Koblenz's biggest monument, the AFD's alleged Nazi tendencies were satirized with cardboard cutouts of Second World War dictators. That impression was reinforced after one of its senior members said that Germany should abandon what he called its shameful memories about the Holocaust.

    This might explain the subdued speech of party leader Frauke Petry on the banks of the Rhine.

    FRAUKE PETRY, Alternative for Germany Party (through interpreter): We have to expose those who call for a more powerful European Union as the true anti-Europeans, the true anti-democrats. We have an answer to these spineless technocrats. And that answer is people and politicians who are going to take back Europe and restore its freedom and sovereignty.


    The right-wingers may be hoping to benefit from the Trump effect, but, on Inauguration Day, most customers in this cafe were turning a blind eye.

    The Koblenz gathering generated two days of protests.

    History student Anna Khodorova:

    ANNA KHODOROVA, History student: It kind of reminds me of the time when Hitler was still alive, because he used populism against Jews, against other discriminated groups of people. We have learned from history, and I'm afraid that this happens again also when Trump becomes president.


    The next day, outside the conference center, a band played the anthem of the European Union, which the nationalists despise.

    English teacher Herman Spix fears that Europe is backsliding into the darkest period of German history.

    HERMAN SPIX, English teacher: I'm very, very much concerned, because I have been working on the issue of the Third Reich for nearly 20 years. This is — in my sense, it is comparable.

  • WOMAN:

    More and more people are spreading racism, sexism, and homophobe sentiments or whatever. If they come into the parliament, it will be a big difference, because I think we will all be very astonished at what they will do.


    The police erected a protective ring around the conference center. Local AFD councillor Ulrich Langenback rejected accusations that they are Nazis in suits.

    ULRICH LANGENBACK,Alternative for Germany Party: For me, they are. I will not use his word. They are the fascists, because it's only young people. So, they got brainwashed by school and university.


    Happy to demonstrate their enthusiasm in the dark, not so many were prepared to voice their opinions publicly.


    Germany is very weak. You are not allowed to speak openly. You're — always when you speak if you are in the AFD, you can worry about your job.


    These nationalists hope that hitching themselves to the Trump bandwagon will bring electoral success. In order to symbolize unity, they held their conference where Germany's two great rivers meet. But their message emphasized growing divisions within Europe, as the continent steams deeper into an unpredictable 2017.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Koblenz.

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