Far-right banks on insecurity

PRAGUE – Spreading an unashamedly anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant and anti-European message, far-right parties are aiming to take the EU Parliament by storm in looming elections. From Bulgaria, in the east of the 27-nation club, to Britain in the wealthier west, hardline parties are seizing on the fears of communities who have seen jobs lost and homes seized in the recession. Governments across the European Union, particularly in the former communist East Bloc, have expressed concern about the rise of the extreme-right. The National Party in the Czech Republic has touted a «final solution to the Gypsy question» in television adverts for the elections, which will be held across Europe from June 4-7. «’The final solution’ was a Nazi euphemism for the premeditated murder of millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people with disabilities,» said Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis. «The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to the freedom of expression, but the Convention also sets limits. Personally, I believe that a call for ‘a final solution to the Gypsy issue’ falls well outside these limits.» Neo-Nazis from the rival Workers Party have held anti-Roma marches as part of their campaign effort and Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer this week called for the party to be banned. In Hungary, hard-hit by the crisis, the ultranationalist Jobbik party has launched just as aggressively into the election campaign. «The lesson from the 1930s is that an economic and social crisis, if it is not contained, not controlled, can give ground to a significant strengthening of radical movements,» said Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai. «And we should stop that,» he added. The far-right could get at least 15 extra seats in the 736-member European Parliament. The British National Party (BNP) expects to get at least one seat as it steps up a breakthrough that has worried some commentators and mainstream politicians in the country. With a «British jobs for British workers» slogan, the party’s Cambridge University-educated chairman Nick Griffin could get one seat. The BNP has exploited a national scandal over lawmakers’ expenses and warned against what it calls the European Union’s «dangerous drive… to give 80 million low-wage Muslim Turks the right to swamp Britain.» Turkey’s campaign to join the EU has featured strongly in many countries. Bulgaria’s Ataka party expects to win four seats with its «No to Turkey in Europe» campaign. In the Netherlands, polls suggest the Party for Freedom (PVV) of islamophobic lawmaker Geert Wilders will take two or three seats. The Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) campaign calls for «the West in the hands of Christians.» It could get up to 19 percent of votes in the election, giving it three of Austria’s 17 European Parliament seats. The other far-right party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO), may also get one European lawmaker, according to polls. In Romania, the Greater Romania Party also hopes to get an EU Parliament seat after a campaign under the headline: «Christians and patriots to rid this country of thieves.» In Finland, opinion polls have named Timo Soini, head of the True Finns party, as the most recognizable and most popular single candidate. The party has seen a spectacular rise in support in recent years, which observers attribute to its criticism of the government’s immigration and EU policies. «As long as there is a complicated and tense economic, financial and hence social situation, we may expect violent reactions and an impact on voters’ behavior,» Brussels political analyst Pascal Delwit told AFP. He said this was particularly true for Eastern European countries, which have seen years of economic expansion halted by the crisis. Delwit said it was difficult to assess how successful the far-right parties would be as «a considerable part of far-right voters generally do not show up for the EU elections.» However, the extreme-right is better organized now than ever before. Up to now, the parties have never formed any lasting alliance at European level. But the new euroskeptic Libertas Party, which stresses national sovereignty, expects to present its candidates in all 27 EU countries.

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