Analysis: Extremists, nationalists, and populists score big gains at EP
The elections to the European Parliament have brought the greatest success to date to a wide variety of extremists, nationalists and populists whose popularity has grown. Such groups were particularly victorious in Britain, Denmark and France.
In Greece, both left and right-wing extremists scored victories, with right-wing extremists coming in third place, while in Hungary the ultra-right came in second place. In Austria, Finland and Sweden the ultra-right also enjoyed much more support than in 2009.
For the time being, advocates of the EU are still the strongest factions in the EP. The largest of those will be the European People's Party (EPP), which brings together center-right groups and will have 212 MEPs in the 761 member legislature.
The second-strongest formation will be the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), which will be able to rely on 186 seats. Nevertheless, the strengthening of the fascisizing, populist or xenophobic parties poses a dilemma to the democratic ones.
A dangerous trend is gaining strength in Europe, similar to that which preceded WWII. It consists of a general growth in aggression, intolerance and primitiveness, with such attributes becoming more and more accepted by more sectors of the public as customary or even desirable.
The success of extremists and populists is a result of this trend. The movement is away from democracy and toward proposals for radical "solutions" intended to undo a pre-selected "enemy".
In Western Europe, that "enemy" is immigrants, primarily Muslims, or job-seekers from other countries, including EU Member States. In the post-communist countries, the "enemy" is Romani people, for the most part.
This trend has existed for some time and is not just being enhanced by the economic/financial crisis, but by other phenomena as well: In addition to globalization, the fact that democratic politicians themselves are discrediting democracy by acting in their own interests irrespective of the general welfare shows that an even more serious crisis is occurring, a moral and political one. Populist, racist, or xenophobic statements by allegedly democratic politicians are daily occurrences throughout Europe, including the Czech Republic.
Other reasons for people's increased frustration are generated by the uncertainty of the situation in which Euro-American civilization finds itself: We are living through a "turning time", and historically such eras have always included uncertainty about the future, changing people's views of the meaning or purpose of interpersonal relations and morality as well as changing their scale of values - in the present case, we are seeing an obvious turn away from humanism, respect for others, and tolerance. Almost no EU politicians are involved in reflecting on how to get us out of this morass.
Cecilia Malmström, who has recently served as the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, has at least indicated how we might begin: "We will never win against violent extremism unless we also concern ourselves with the demagogic, populist propaganda that comprises the basis of ideologically-motivated violence in Europe. Not since WWII have extremist, populist forces enjoyed such enormous influence in national parliaments as they do today. It is necessary for more leading representatives in Europe to express their disagreement with the growth of extremism. We must have the courage to stand up to these forces and protect our common European values."
Unfortunately, however, this is not happening anywhere - democratic politicians either respond ex post or are themselves reveling in populism and xenophobia. France is throwing out immigrants and job-seekers from the EU Member States and Britain and Germany are planning to follow suit.
Are there extremist formulas that the democrats should copy today? Will they still be democrats if they do so?
The formula proposed by Malmström seems much more effective to me. A clearly humanist position, regularly expressed by democrats, still has the potential to change the sinister societal atmosphere in the EU Member States.
However, that potential may not last long, as the EP results indicate. Democratic politicians need to finally realize this.
This big shift, which is copying the deteriorating European atmosphere of recent years, is represented by these victories of fascisizing or populist parties in Britain, Denmark and France, the success of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, and a second-place finish for the neo-Nazi Jobbik party in Hungary. Naturally, similar parties have gained strength in other Member States as well.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has just earned an unheard-of success. During the previous EP elections in 2009, UKIP won 16.6 % of the vote and 13 seats, but now it has a chance at 23 of the 73 EP seats reserved for Britain. The governing Conservatives and opposition Labour each won 18 seats. This is the first time such a result has been achieved by a party with no MPs in its own national parliament. The UKIP first participated in the EP elections 20 years ago, when it received only 1 % of the vote. The party wants to practically halt immigration into Britain.
The ultra-right Danish People's Party (DF) won with 26.6 % of the vote. The party will have four of the 13 seats held for Denmark.
Marine Le Pen's Front National (FN) scored an historic result in France with 25 % of the vote. Conservatives ended up in second place and the governing Socialists ended up in third place. Government representatives are calling the result a political earthquake and President François Hollande has called a cabinet session to address it. During the previous EP elections in 2009, the FN won just 6 % of the vote and is now celebrating a victory that should give it 22 seats in the EP.
In Greece the EP elections were won by the extremist ultra-left SYRIZA party, which is strongly anti-EU. SYRIZA is against the loan conditions set by the EU and IMF that require harsh budget cuts. The party won 26.5 % of the vote, while the conservative New Democracy party of Greek PM Antonis Samaras won just 23.2 %. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn ended up in third place with 9.3 % of the vote and will make it into the EP for the first time with three seats, despite the fact that its entire leadership is in police custody and under prosecution. The murder of left-wing activist and popular singer Pavlos Fisas, of which a Golden Dawn member was charged, did not affect voters' preference for the party, nor did the subsequent indictment of the party leadership on charges of membership in a criminal organization.
The governing Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) party won a convincing victory in coalition with the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP), with 51.49 % of the vote. However, the neo-Nazi Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) ended up second with 14.68 % of the vote, winning three seats in the EP.
The populist, xenophobic Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which first achieved fame through Carinthian Governor Jörg Haider, received around 20 % of the vote. Compared to the last EP elections that is a growth of 7 %.
In Finland, the governing National Coalition Party (KOK) won the EP elections, but the xenophobic Finnish Party is celebrating a big victory as well. The party now has two MEP seats instead of one.
In the Netherlands, the eurosceptic, xenophobic Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders will continue to have four MEPs.
In Sweden, the Social Democratic Labour Party won the EP vote with six of Sweden's 20 MEP seats. For the first time ever, the nationalistic Swedish Democrats (SD) formation will seat two MEPs.
Successful ultra-right parties in detail
AUSTRIA - Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ)
This right-wing populist party was first made famous by Corinthian Governor Jörg Haider. It was established in 1955 and carried on the activity of a previous group, the Union of Independents. The Freedom Party entered government for the first time in 1983, in coalition with the Social Democrats. From 2000-2007 they were part of a governing coalition with the Christian Democrats. Haider became party chair in 1986 and the party, which had originally had a conservative, free-market program, slid toward populist, right-wing rhetoric under his leadership. Haider perished in an automobile accident in 2008. He was the main face of the Freedom Party until an internal split in 2005, when he left and joined the newly-founded Union for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). Interest in the Freedom Party subsequently fell. Today it is the third-strongest party in the Austrian Parliament. In this year's EP elections the party won around 20 % of the vote, a growth of about 7 % compared to 2009.
DENMARK - Danish People's Party (DF)
This ultra-right party was created in 1995 as an offshoot of the Progress Party. The DF closely collaborates with the governing coalition and occupies a critical position on the EU and immigration, advocating for upholding the traditional values of the Danish monarchy and improving conditions for the socially vulnerable. In 2009, the party won 15.3 % of the EP vote, but this year it won 26.6 % and will hold four of the 13 MEP seats belonging to Denmark.
FINLAND - The Finns Party (previously the True Finns)
This party was established in 1995 out of what was left of the Peasants' Party of Finland. It has been labeled a nationalist, populist formation. The party is against the EU and calls for stricter immigration policy and for stricter punishments for serious crimes. Unlike several similar parties, it does not have a neo-Nazi past to contend with. It entered parliament for the first time in 1999, winning one seat, and in 2011 shocked the country by winning 39 seats to become the third-strongest in the country. It also scored a success in this year's EP elections, winning two seats. Previously the party held only one EP seat even though it was considered the actual winner of the 2009 EP election, as its leader, Timo Soinin, received the most preferential votes.
FRANCE - Front National (NF)
The eurosceptic, populist, right-wing Front National was created in 1973 and has been led since 2011 by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder and longtime chair. Ms Le Pen has called the Lisbon Treaty illegitimate, demanded France return to the franc, and promised a referendum on withdrawal from the EU should she win the next presidential elections. The FN also advocates lower taxes, restrictions on immigration, and the abolition of dual citizenship. During the previous EP elections in 2009, the party won just 6 % of the vote, but it is celebrating an EP victory today of 25 % of the vote and could have 22 seats there now.
HUNGARY - Jobbik
The Central European type of Fascism or neo-Nazism is best represented by the Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik). The party is led by openly anti-Romani racism and is strongly anti-Semitic as well. Jobbik also wants to introduce a ban on the "promotion of sexual deviancy", through which it is targeting LGBT people. The existence of the right-wing extremist National Guard is linked to Jobbik as well. That paramilitary group has been banned by the courts but has won popular favor by conducting a violent war against "gypsy crime".
NETHERLANDS - Party for Freedom (PVV)
The Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders is conducting a massive campaign against the "Islamicization" of the country and calling for restrictions on immigration. Wilders has also prompted controversy and criticism through his recent challenge to the Dutch to report any "iniquity" committed by people from Central and Eastern Europe to the authorities. In the past he has also been charged with incitement against Muslims and has publicly compared the Koran to Mein Kampf by the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, as well as labeling Islam a "Fascist" ideology held by terrorists.
SWEDEN - Swedish Democrats (SD)
This party was founded in 1988 and calls itself a nationalist, socially conservative party. Most analysts, however, have labeled the SD an ultra-right party. The SD was created on the basis of the "Leave Sweden to the Swedes" movement, which was established in 1979. The party considers globalization, the growing Muslim population, and immigration to be the greatest threats to Sweden. It rejects characterizations of it as racist. It first drew significant attention in 2010 when it entered the Swedish parliament for the first time. Now it will have two MEPs. The party won 9.8 % of the vote in these EP elections compared to 3.3 % in the 2009 EP vote.
UNITED KINGDOM - UK Independence Party (UKIP)
This anti-EU, ultra-right party was established in 1993. It is striving to get Britain to leave the EU and to halt immigration. Its leader is Nigel Farage, and this populist party exploits slogans about alleged abuse of the British welfare system by immigrants from elsewhere in the EU and about allegedly high crime rates among such immigrants, claiming that people from the eastern part of the EU are taking jobs away from Britons. During the previous EP race in 2009, the UKIP won 16.6 % of the vote and 13 seats, while this year it has 23 of the 73 seats reserved for the UK, with the governing Conservatives and opposition Labour winning 18 seats each. According to preliminary estimates, this is the historically first victory for the party in a national election in Britain and marks the first time since 1910 that an election has been won by a party other than the two traditional ones.
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