WASHINGTON - European nationalist leaders met in Germany Saturday in a show of strength at the start of a year of big election tests, celebrating Donald Trump’s inauguration as the U.S. president and declaring themselves a realistic alternative to the continent’s governments.
The Koblenz Congress brought together French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen of the National Front party, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV), Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League, Frauke Petry of the 4-year-old Alternative for Germany (AfG), Harald Vilimsky, the general-secretary of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, which last year narrowly failed to win the country’s presidency, and other like-minded European leaders.
“I believe we are witnessing historic times,’’ Dutch anti-Islam leader Wilders told reporters. “The world is changing. America is changing. Europe is changing. And the people start getting in charge again.’’
Trump “is a winner, we are winners: Frauke Petry, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, all of us here are winners,’’ Vilimsky told an audience of about 1,000 people.
Referring also to Trump’s victory, Le Pen said “2016 was the year when the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. And 2017, I am sure, will be the year of the awakening of the people of continental Europe,” she said
Speakers also denounced “political Islam’’ and Europe’s common currency, the euro, which Salvini labeled “a failed, criminal experiment.’’
Emboldened by Britons’ vote last year to leave the European Union, the far-right populist leaders or the so-called “top politicians of the new Europe,” met under the slogan “Freedom for Europe.” They aim to strengthen ties between their like-minded parties, as they have done in the past.