How Far will it swing? European extremist parties are expected to make record gains in the election this weekend

By Toby Axelrod, Valentina Jovanovski, Orlando Radice, Marcus Dysch, Nathalie Rothschild, Cecelia Rencatti, May 22, 2014
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(Photos: Reuters, AP)

(Photos: Reuters, AP)

Far-right and populist parties could take at least a quarter of the votes in the European Parliamentary elections.

And with parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and the Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland poised to form a parliamentary alliance, alarm bells are ringing.

According to a Pollwatch2014 analysis of voter opinions, the two politicians are capable of forming a bloc of 38 MEPs from a minimum of seven countries — a prerequisite for receiving more than £2 million a year in public funding.

But would such a bloc pose a real threat? Jean-Yves Camus, a French researcher on antisemitism, says the right-wing scene is far too fractious to form an alliance.

(Photos: Reuters, AP)

(Photos: Reuters, AP)

“Even if those Eurosceptic, extreme-right parties are more powerful in the next parliament — and they will be — it will not be enough to block legislation,” Mr Camus said.

While most far-right groups have anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic views, only a few fringe parties openly make antisemitic statements or deny the Holocaust.

Observers say it is hard to imagine them all coming together. And some say the fear of such alliances will bring the mainstream parties closer, anyway.

However, the concern has to be, what happens in the next three to five years, according to Robin Shepherd, author of a recent World Jewish Congress report on neo-Nazism.

The danger is that these parties could “become more legitimate in the eyes of the electorate”.

Meanwhile, Europe’s main Jewish student organisation, the European Union of Jewish Students, is not sitting idly by.

The EUJS has launched a “Mind the Vote” campaign, using flyers, their website and social media to raise awareness among young voters about the far-right threat.

Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties are “not on the fringes any more,” said EUJS president Jane Braden-Golay. “This is entering into the very heart of the EU, and that is very worrying.”

FRANCE

The National Front (FN) could come first on Sunday, according to opinion polls released over the past week.

The latest from TNS Institute shows that 25 per cent of the French could vote for them, opposition conservative party UMP could come second with 21 per cent and French President François Hollande’s Socialist party third with 18 per cent.

If the survey proves correct, it will be the FN’s first national election victory.

The far-right party got a boost in March when it won 11 cities in municipal elections.

Like elsewhere in Europe, nationalist ideas are finding purchase among voters fed up with France’s economic woes.

The FN says it hopes to get 15 to 20 representatives into the European Parliament — three to five times more than it currently has.

The party has three MEPs — leader Marine Le Pen, her father Jean-Marie and her former rival to the party’s leadership, Bruno Gollnisch.

Yet Le Pen says that her goal now is not just to win the election but to create a Eurosceptic group in the European Parliament.

In her group, Le Pen hopes to unite Netherlands’s Geert Wilders’s PVV party, Austria’s Freedom Party and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang.

HUNGARY

The antisemitic Jobbik party is projected to become the second largest Hungarian party in the European Parliament.

In the latest survey by Ipsos, 17 percent of decided voters supported Jobbik overtaking the Socialists. The poll also suggested about 30 per cent of voters under 30 years old will vote for Jobbik.

This level of support could translate into four MEPs, although analysts say the party’s support could increase on election day. Jobbik, which has three MEPs, received 20 per cent of the votes in the national election last month.

Jobbik’s increasing popularity shows that “there’s something seriously wrong in society,” said Máté Hajba, vice-president of the Hungarian think-tank Free Market Foundation. Many voters are attracted to the party’s anti-Europe rhetoric, Mr Hajba added. However, Jobbik is unlikely to join any parliamentary alliances because, even among other European far-right parties, it is considered “too extremist”.

ITALY

Last month, Beppe Grillo, comedian and leader of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), used Primo Levi’s Shoah poem If This is a Man to attack the government — and then employed a series of classic antisemitic tropes to defend his actions.

According to the latest polls, M5S is on track to get about 23 or 24 four per cent of the votes, coming second behind the centre-left Partito Democratico led by the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and ahead of the right-wing Forza Italia.

However, M5S’s influence on the European Parliament will be limited because it is avoiding any alliances.

The Lega Nord, led by Matteo Salvini, has strong links to Marine Le Pen’s National Front and has been predicted to win 5 per cent of the vote. The party could have some clout in parliament because it is planning to join the Le Pen-Wilders European Alliance for Freedom, a far-right bloc to be comprised of an estimated 38 MEPs.

AUSTRIA

A recent Deutsche Bank survey suggested that the Austrian Freedom Party, formerly led by the late Jorg Haider who famously praised Nazi employment policies, could win as much as 42 per cent of the vote in the European election.

Although many observers say that this is probably an over-estimate, most expect the party to win around 25 per cent of the vote.

This would be enough for the party to contribute four or five MEPs to Austria’s quota of 18 deputies at the European Parliament.

Under its current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, the party has toned down racist rhetoric. But he has been linked with the Burschenschaften, a secretive far-right group that once counted Adolf Eichmann, Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler among its members.

The Austrian Freedom Party is expected to join Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen’s far-right bloc, the European Alliance for Freedom.

SWEDEN

The anti-immigrant, Sweden Democrat Party could enter the European Parliament for the first time, according to the latest polls.

In a survey published on Friday, 6.6 per cent of respondents backed the party — twice as many as in the previous EU election.

The Sweden Democrats have still not stated which group they will join if they end up entering parliament. A party spokesman told local media that the announcement will be made after the election and that it could take months before the party decides.

The advancements in the polls come after a series of protests against the party. A number of public meetings were stopped following protests, Sweden Democrat billboards on the Stockholm underground have been defaced and a variety of professional groups, including firemen and postmen, have launched social-media campaigns to voice their opposition to the party’s policies.

GERMANY

Pundits in Germany say candidates from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party — and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union — are sure to win the lion’s share of German votes.

Right-populist parties, along with far-right parties, are expected to win a handful of Germany’s 91 seats in the international body, something they have never managed to do in the German national parliament.

Although any political party has to get five per cent of the vote to make it into a legislative body — a law that aims to prevent the destabilisation of German democracy — the Supreme Court recently removed all such hurdles for German parties aspiring to win a seat in the EU Parliament.

The change has made it more likely that the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) will manage to get a candidate elected.

Hamburg-based pollster election.de predicts exactly that result for the NPD.

NETHERLANDS

Geert wilders’s populist, anti-immigration Party for Freedom is widely expected to come second on election day.

The latest polls say the Freedom Party may win three or four seats out of Holland’s allocation of 26, while the progressive liberal party D66 could win between four and six.

Mr Wilders has announced an alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Front — together they will head up the far-right European Alliance for Freedom, which is likely to include Austria’s Freedom Party and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang.

Mr Wilders’s decision to ally with Ms Le Pen represents a U-turn: in 2007 he stated that “Le Pen and those kind of people, [are] terrible”.

A recent opinion poll showed that less than one third of the Dutch population approves of the way the EU is being run. Only 31 per cent were somewhat positive about the EU, and 27 percent were somewhat negative, while the rest were non-committal.

GREECE

Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has been riding high since a recent decision by the country’s Supreme Court not to bar the group from participating in the European Parliament elections.

The party’s founder and leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, was jailed last October to await trial on charges of operating a criminal gang following the killing of an anti-fascist rapper in Athens.

The Supreme Court ruled that since the trial was yet to take place, Golden Dawn’s political legitimacy could not be disproven, and the party was allowed to take part in the election.

Recent polls have indicated that the party, which is widely linked to gangs that roam the streets of Greek cities attacking immigrants, will capture between 8 and 11 per cent of the vote and could win two out of Greece’s 21 European Parliament seats. This result would place Golden dawn third behind the governing centre-right New Democracy party and Syriza, the left-wing opposition.

Most European far-right parties will not form any alliances with Golden Dawn because they consider it too extreme. The neo-Nazi party got a boost from a strong showing in Greece’s local elections this week: party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris received more than 16 per cent of Sunday’s vote in the race for mayor of Athens. But none of its candidates reached the second round.

BRITAIN

The most significant likely outcome is the expected annihilation of the British National Party.

Five years on from the party’s greatest success — it had two candidates elected to Brussels in 2009, including leader Nick Griffin — it faces its probable nadir. Polling suggests the BNP will struggle to achieve one per cent of the vote. Last time, it hit the relative heights of 10 per cent in one region. Both its MEPs are expected to be ousted.

The resultant loss of parliamentary salaries and expenses should ensure the party has little chance of rearing its head with any prominence in the years to come. Questions remain, however, over the possible alignment of UK Independence Party MEPs alongside far-right politicians. Ukip leader Nigel Farage is co-president of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) grouping in the parliament.

The EFD includes members of Greece’s right-wing LAOS party. Its leader, Georgios Karatzaferis, has previously questioned the role of Jews in the 9/11 attacks. LAOS is widely accused of welcoming members with a history of antisemitism.

The Henry Jackson Society think-tank this week warned of the growing popularity of fringe and “outsider” parties across the continent. It highlighted the EFD bloc as containing members responsible for various episodes of racism, homophobia, and neo-Nazism.

The HJS report said prospective Ukip candidates had been shown to have links to the BNP, English Defence League and National Front and stood accused of a series of racist comments including antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Meanwhile, Ukip has been vigorously courted by Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders, who has entreatied Mr Farage to join him a dissident parliament bloc that will include France’s National Front. Mr Farage refused.

Last updated: 3:45pm, May 22 2014