Europe News

Russian links to EU far right exposed by French loan

Philippe Huguen | AFP | Getty Images

National Front, the French far-right party which is gaining support as confidence in European Union institutions wanes, took out a 9 million euro ($11.2 million) loan from a Russian-owned bank backed by the Kremlin.

Marine Le Pen, the National Front's leader and Presidential candidate for the 2017 French election, admitted to French daily Le Monde that the party took out the loan in September from the Russian-owned First Czech-Russian Bank (FCRB), which was established in 1996 by the Czech government, but is now owned by Roman Popov, its former chairman and a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We cast our net wide," Le Pen told Le Monde. " Spain, Italy, the United States, in Asia and Russia. We signed with the first party we caught hold of, and we are very happy," she said. She added that the suggestion that the loan was a "gesture of kindness" by a friend of the party was "outrageous".

She has previously expressed her "certain admiration" for Putin over his "patriotic economic model."

"Russia has made that leap because the groups went knocking,and they have little to lose and possibly something to gain in helping to create more stalemate in Europe," Catherine Fieschi, director of think-tank Counterpoint, which focuses on European populism, told CNBC. "Creating a situation where a significant minority of the European public will see both backing Ukraine as too costly (and too pro U.S.) as well as good to back a strong man is obviously to their advantage."
The current situation is more "ad hoc" than grand conspiracy, she argued.

Wallerand de Saint-Just, the party's treasurer, told France Info radio: "We have been looking for loans for some time, to fund our election campaigns. But our bank, like most French and European lenders, categorically refuses to give the FN and FN candidates the slightest cent".

FCRB had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Societe Generale, the National Front's previous lender, said in November it would no longer lend to the anti-EU party, which has been accused of racism and anti-Semitism in the past. It is now leading in opinion polls in France, as the population gets increasingly disillusioned with the government, led by left-wing President Francois Hollande.

Le Pen is not the only right-wing leader who has sought closer ties with Russia. The emerging right-wing parties in Europe have antipathy towards the European Union status quo in common with the Russian leader.

Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the most anti-EU party in the region's biggest economy, has also been reported in German media to be eyed by the Kremlin, with the prospect of closer financial ties. A report by Centre for Strategic Communications, a Moscow-based think tank, called "Putin: The New Leader of International Conservatism", apparently suggests Russia could help the group out via gold sales, one of the party's main sources of funding, according to a report in Bild, the German tabloid newspaper.

Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), the U.K.'s rising anti-EU party, famously praised Putin as the world leader he most admires and has called on the West to stop "provoking Putin". He has also made regular appearances on state-backed broadcaster Russia Today.

A UKIP spokesman said: "The party will not be accepting any money from Russian banks."

"The mix of nostalgia for power, status etc (in Russia) is completely compatible with those of the very conservative right in western Europe," Fieschi added.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President of France, has also been dogged by claims of inappropriate financial ties with allegations that the Libyan government backed his successful 2007 presidential campaign, which he has denied.