By Martin Banks - 12th December 2012
We welcome this decision
MEPs have welcomed a move by French authorities to ask parliament to lift the immunity of far-right leader Marine Le Pen so she can be prosecuted for comparing Islamic prayers to the Nazi occupation.
French justice ministry spokesman Pierre Rance said the request was sent to parliament's president Martin Schulz last month.
It relates to an ongoing judicial probe into remarks made by Le Pen in a speech to supporters of her Front National party in December 2010.
A parliament source said it would study the request and submit a decision to parliament for a vote within three or four months.
The decision was welcomed by several deputies, including Sylvie Guillaume, S&D deputy leader, who said, "We welcome this decision from the French authorities to prosecute Le Pen who is used to hatred speeches.
"We are confident that the parliament committee on legal affairs will give a positive answer to this demand and will lift her immunity, as it did in the past with her father".
Further comment came from UK member Claude Moraes, who is the S&D spokesperson on justice and home affairs.
On Wednesday, he told this website, "It is right that parliament should quickly and properly examine the request to lift the immunity of the Le Penn.
"The alleged charges she faces are of deep concern not only in France but to the wider EU where Islamaphobia is on the rise and is having a real and deeply negative impact on peoples lives."
He added, "In Europe far-right parties are gaining an increasing foothold with Marine Le Pen and the NF recently polling 6.5 million votes and a poll in Greece indicating that support for the Neo-Natzi Golden Dawn has grown to 10.5% up from 7% at the last election.
"However, fiercely anti-Islamic Freedom Party of Geert Wilders won only 15 seats in recent Dutch general elections compared with its previous 24 seats.
"It is clear that Islamaphobia and the issue of Islam is a major factor which is being exploited by the far right in Europe and is now an established component in the way the EU far-right operates in Europe.
"The alleged charges against Marine Le Pen bring into sharp relief this further development in the way the far-right operates across the EU."
In the speech, Le Pen denounces the holding of Islamic prayers on the streets of France, where a dearth of mosques has forced many to pray outside.
She said, "For those who like to talk about World War II, to talk about occupation, we could talk about, for once, the occupation of our territory.
"This is an occupation of parts of our territory. There are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation all the same and it weighs on people."
Prosecutors in Lyon, where the speech took place, opened an investigation into the remarks for "inciting racial hatred" in January 2011 following a complaint from an anti-racism group.
MEPs enjoy immunity from criminal and civil liability for opinions expressed as part of their duties, unless the chamber votes to lift the immunity.
Le Pen took over the Front National from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has several convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.
Marine Le Pen, who was first elected to parliament in 2004, won 18 percent of the vote in the first round of France's presidential election in April, the party's highest-ever score.
On the immunity waiver request, she said this was only "traditional practice" after the opening of a criminal probe.