HELSINKI (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was put on the defensive Tuesday while visiting Estonia to unite Europe’s right-wing populists, calling persistent questions about whether her party had links to the Kremlin and took Russian money “insulting.”
A meeting of an alliance of far-right parties preparing for this month’s European Union parliament elections brought Le Pen to Estonia. Representatives from Italy, Finland and Denmark joined Le Pen and the leader of the nationalist, anti-immigrant Estonian Conservative People’s Party.
At a news conference in the capital of Tallinn, an Estonian journalist asked Le Pen about French news reports about a loan her party received from a Czech-Russian bank in 2014 and allegations that Russia supported her 2017 presidential campaign.
“I’m not under the control of any foreign country. I do not depend on anyone,” a visibly irritated Le Pen said.
Politicians in Estonia, an EU member with a population of 1.3 million that borders Russia, are not eager to be associated with pro-Russia agendas. When the reporter persisted, asking Le Pen about her alleged good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, she made her offense clear.
“I find your question insulting. I find it hard to understand that you insist on asking about Russia,” Le Pen said.
She nevertheless went on to deny all suggestions of being too Moscow friendly.
“I am defending the interests of my state (France) and standing up for Europe’s interests. I will not allow for us to be under Putin’s thumb,” Le Pen said.
The Estonian Conservative People’s Party, or EKRE, is a partner in Estonia’s new coalition government. It might join, at some point, the far-right European Parliament alliance Le Pen is championing along with League party leader Matteo Salvini, the interior minister in Italy’s populist government.
“EKRE is a great party with a future that carries the hopes of the people,” Le Pen said after a meeting with the party’s chairman and Estonian Interior Minister Mart Helme.
Referring to EKRE’s holding five of the ministerial posts in Estonia’s 15-member Cabinet, Le Pen said the party “is a big movement that represents the interests of the Estonian people”
Representatives from the League, Denmark’s Danish People’s Party and Finland’s Finns Party attended the meeting in Estonia.
Those parties, as well as Le Pen’s National Rally and the Alternative for Germany, are working to grow a new EU legislative group with the goal of radically transforming European Union policies on issues like migration, security and the environment.
The parties in the new alliance currently sit in other parliamentary groups within the European Parliament, such as The Europe of Nations and Freedom that currently has National Rally and EKRE as members.