France’s Marine Le Pen, one of the leading voices of the far right in the European Union, is throwing her political weight behind Italian hardline minister Matteo Salvini to set up a major populist group in the EU legislature after next month’s elections.

The head of France’s National Rally party said “we have mandated Matteo Salvini … to try to build this very big group of the Defence of European Nations” in the European parliament.

Even though far-right populist parties sometimes have widely diverging stances on some issues, Ms Le Pen says there is more that unites them than divides them.

Currently, populist parties are spread across different groups in the legislature, such as Christian Democrat and Socialist groupings. Some, like Ms Le Pen’s party, have long stood alone in the parliament.

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini (Luca Bruno/AP)

Far-right figures have often made plenty of noise in the legislature but have been sidelined when it came to wielding parliamentary power.

In recent years, populist and far-right parties have made inroads in several EU nations, from Mr Salvini’s Italy to the Hungary of prime minister Viktor Orban and the rise of the right in last Sunday’s Finnish elections.

Ms Le Pen was the presidential challenger to Emmanuel Macron in the final round two years ago but lost heavily.

The populist parties hope that by uniting they will make their voice count in the 28-nation EU for the first time. They are going their own way in the election campaign but hope to stand together afterwards.

“We want to go further and get the (parliamentary) group which is the biggest, the strongest possible,” Ms Le Pen said.

With Britain possibly being forced to take part in the May 23-26 elections despite the country’s plans to split from the EU by October 31, Ms Le Pen also held out a hand to Nigel Farage.

“He is welcome if he wants to join. Even if it might be just for a moment,” she said.