President of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party and French MP Marine Le Pen (C) and French far-right 'RN' runner candidate for the upcoming European election Jordan Bardella (C-R) visit the annual energy transition fair "BePOSITIVE" exhi
President of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party and French MP Marine Le Pen (C) and French far-right 'RN' runner candidate for the upcoming European election Jordan Bardella (C-R) visit the annual energy transition fair "BePOSITIVE" exhi

PARIS - Marine Le Pen, head of France's far right National Rally party, says European populist parties will surge in May's European Parliament elections, a forecast shared by some experts and which may profoundly shake up European institutions and politics.

In an interview with VOA, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen described today's Europe at a turning point, with European Parliament elections marking a potential watershed.

She said she believes Europe is moving toward a return of nation states and that her National Rally party is part of what she calls a great political movement supporting this direction. She called for turning the European Union into a cooperation among nations, rather than a so-called super state.

Le Pen lost to President Emmanuel Macron in presidential elections two years ago, but today her party is surging in the polls.

A public opinion survey this week shows the National Rally party and Macron's Republic on the Move Party are neck and neck for May's EU parliament vote.

EU nationalism rising

FILE - Members of nationalist organization the Nat
FILE - Members of nationalist organization the National-Radical Camp march through downtown Warsaw, Poland, April 29, 2017.

Nor is France the only country where populist parties stand to show strong gains in European elections. Today, nationalist parties lead governments in several EU states, including Italy, Poland and Hungary.

Senior policy fellow Susi Dennison, of the European Council on Foreign Relations policy institute said nationalist parties "could potentially go up to or beyond a third of the seats in the European Parliament."

That in turn would "give them access to places on committees, the ability to form a political group which gives them funds, and the opportunity to work as a bloc to prevent decision on some key areas."

She said the parties may gain a say on issues like the European budget and even the appointment of EU commissioners.

These views are shared by other experts, but some say predictions of a major populist surge are overblown.

FILE - Protesters wearing yellow vests are seen be
FILE - Protesters wearing yellow vests are seen behind a fire as they attend a demonstration of the "yellow vests" movement in Angers, France, Jan. 19, 2019.

France's yellow vest protest movement adds a complicating factor to the May vote, presenting a potential opportunity — or competition — for Le Pen's party.

Le Pen said she doesn't consider the movement a threat. If yellow vests run for EU parliament vote, she said she's for it — that's democracy.

Polls suggest candidates running under the yellow vest banner could prove a disruptive force in the EU vote, possibly stealing votes from Le Pen's party. But the grassroots movement is divided and leaderless, and many doubt it can transform into a real political force.