France's RN to lead new right-wing group at EU parliament

BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -France's National Rally (RN) will lead the European Parliament's third-largest alliance, Patriots for Europe, forged by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the group announced on Monday.

Marine Le Pen's far-right RN joined the alliance in the European Parliament earlier on Monday, a day after it suffered a blow to its ambitions by finishing in third place in elections to the French National Assembly.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party, Fidesz and the populist Czech ANO party led by Andrej Babis had already agreed to join forces, citing the fight against illegal immigration, as well as transferring more powers from Brussels back to member states as the new alliance's goals.

With the addition of RN's 30 members, the Patriots will pose a challenge to the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which supports Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as European Commission President.

"As patriotic forces, we are going to work together in order to retake our institutions and reorient policies to serve our nations and peoples," Jordan Bardella, prominent RN member and the group's new president, said in a statement.

In total, the Patriots have 84 members including 11 from Hungary's Fidesz and 8 from Italy's League. Kinga Gál of Fidesz and Roberto Vannacci of the League will be vice presidents.

To form a new political grouping, 23 MEPs are needed who represent at least a quarter of EU member states.

"After a lot of work, the large Patriots group is born together with the League in Brussels, which will be decisive in changing the future of this Europe," League leader Matteo Salvini wrote on X.

Third behind the centre-right EPP and centre-left Socialists and Democrats, the Patriots have leapfrogged the rival far-right ECR group, led by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who is allied with the League in domestic politics.

Meloni was dealt a blow to her own alliance efforts after Spain's far-right party Vox left her bloc last week and joined the Patriots. Among other far-right groups, Germany's Alternative for Germany will not join the Patriots but has yet to land in a bloc.

The RN's strong showing in the European election in France helped push the liberal Renew bloc that included President Emmanuel Macron's centrists from third place down to fifth in the new European parliament.

The groupings may still change before the newly elected parliament sits in its first plenary session next week.

Orban's party is pushing to strengthen its presence at the European level after Hungary's opposition party, Tisza, joined the EPP last month.

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori, Crispian Balmer and Elizabeth Pineau, writing by Julia Payne in Brussels; Editing by Keith Weir and Peter Graff)