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EU far-right expects success in elections

Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties hope to make big gains in vote for a new EU parliament.

Last updated: 21 May 2014 13:32
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Polls show Hungary's Jobbik party could win five of 21 European Parliament seats allocated to the country [Reuters]

From May 22-25, hundreds of millions of people from the European Union's 28 member countries will vote for members of the European Parliament, one of the EU's two legislative bodies.

The last elections were held in 2009, before the depths of Europe's economic and financial crises. Since then, five EU countries - Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus - have required bailouts, and unemployment across the continent, especially among youth, has remained persistently high. 

This has led many Europeans to sour on the union - a disenchantment reflected in polling figures that show a significant portion of the electorate plans on voting for far-right parties for the European Parliament. 

These parties are highly sceptical of European government and the euro, and staunchly oppose immigration and multiculturalism. 

Far-right groups look poised to make especially large gains in the Netherlands, Greece, France and Hungary. Read more about these parties' electoral chances below.


The Netherlands


Geert Wilders' far-right Freedom Party (PVV) looks set to make gains in the European parliamentary elections on May 22, with some opinion polls predicting the party could become the largest Dutch faction in Brussels. 

Seeking greater influence in Europe, Wilders in November announced an alliance with France's far-right National Front with the aim of "liberating Europe from within". 

As part of this broader anti-EU movement, he vowed to destroy what he called the "monster of Brussels", tapping into a pool of disgruntled voters who still feel the pinch of the economic crisis. 

The Dutch are fed up with Europe, Wilders often repeats in his campaign, claiming that the union has brought the country nothing but austerity measures and tax hikes, while Brussels pours billions into ailing EU economies such as Greece and Cyprus. 

Wilders' anti-EU campaign and drive for reinstating the Netherlands' old currency, the guilder, has resonated with many in the country. But his aggressive anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric remains his most important message. 

Wilders recently was at the centre of a storm of criticism after telling supporters that he would ensure that the Netherlands would have "fewer Moroccans", whom he blames for increased crime.

In a speech after local elections in March, Wilders asked his followers whether they wanted "more or fewer Moroccans" in the country. When the crowd chanted, "fewer, fewer", Wilders replied, smiling, "We'll arrange for that." 

The remark backfired, causing an outpouring of anger. Some said Wilders' comments invoked the Nazi deportation of Jews during World War II. Thousands in the Netherlands filed official complaints, putting pressure on PVV politicians to declare whether they agreed with Wilders' remarks. 

PVV politicians left the party in droves and the party's ratings in the polls dipped briefly, but nevertheless, Wilders appears to have emerged stronger from the controversy. 

"Wilders is the Netherlands' most shrewd politician. He thrives on controversy that he himself creates," analyst Andre Krouwel told Al Jazeera. "It doesn't matter that many PVV members left the party after the 'fewer Moroccans' remarks. The PVV consists of Wilders alone. Nobody really knows these other politicians. If one of them leaves, Wilders just calls him or her an idiot and moves on, and his followers love him for it." 

Much of Wilders' success on Thursday will depend on his ability to get voters to the polls. Past EU elections have been plagued by voter apathy and low turnout. 

The Netherlands is allocated 26 seats in the European Parliament, and Wilders' party is expected to grab four or five, according to the latest forecast by Maurice de Hond, the Netherlands' foremost pollster.

De Hond's forecast put the PVV neck-and-neck with D66, a progressive political party that favours a strong and united European Union, and the CDA (Christian Democrats), a traditional centre-right party that is likely to benefit from low voter turnout. 

"Even if Wilders wins enough support to form an alliance with the National Front and other right-wing parties in Europe, they won't succeed in destroying the EU from within. You can only do that by cutting off its funds through domestic politics, which Wilders doesn't have the support for," Krouwel said. 

"What's at stake for the PVV on Thursday, though, is a symbolic victory, which potentially could be huge."

- David Poort, @davidpoort


France 


"Yes to France, No to Brussels!" proclaims the slogan of France's far-right National Front (FN) ahead of the European parliamentary elections. 

At a FN rally on Sunday in southwestern Paris, party leader Marine Le Pen expounded her ideas to the party faithful. 

"The European Union doesn't allow us to protect our industry … the European Union doesn't allow us any kind of economic patriotism," she said. "The doors of France are open to all the foul winds of liberal globalisation." 

As the audience applauded, Le Pen moved on to blasting the euro, which she described as a "maladjusted" and overvalued currency that was hurting French exports. "The euro was made by Germany, for Germany," she said. "Euro rhymes with zero. Zero growth, zero future, zero jobs for our youth." 

Le Pen's speech is nothing new. For years, the FN has campaigned on a highly eurosceptic programme, but for the first time in the history of French politics, it's leading the polls in a major election. 

According to the latest survey by the Sofres-TNS polling institute, almost one of four French - 23 percent - say they will vote for the FN, against 21 percent planning to support the centre-right UMP and 19 percent for France's ruling Socialist Party. 

By contrast, the FN garnered just 6 percent of the vote in EU elections in 2009. 

"They are capitalising on the voters' discontent against national and European politics," Emmanuel Riviere, director of polling at Sofres-TNS, said. 

Since Marine Le Pen - daughter of former FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen - took over the party's leadership in 2011, the Front National has begun a slow and steady rise. In late March, it won the vote in 11 municipalities. 

The FN's popularity has grown as successive French governments - first led by conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, then by socialist Francois Hollande - have implemented austerity measures and failed to revive a struggling economy. 

"The fact that the right wing and the left wing seem to implement the same policies is giving the FN more support," said Madani Cheurfa, a political analyst at Cevipof. "It allows the FN to appear as the only alternative against what it calls the 'UMPS'," a combination of the acronyms of France's two biggest parties. 

Last week, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned French voters against what he referred to as the rise of the extremism. "If you vote for the National Front today, you weaken France. The National Front does not like Europe or France," he said on BFM Radio. 

But FN supporters say their party is the only one that cares about France, its values and its history. "With Europe, we are a bit globalised now, and it makes me sad to see that France has turned into a tiny pawn on a global chessboard," said Flavia Mangano, a 24-year-old student and FN activist. "The FN represents hope for a new France: a France that works, studies and produces." 

Despite the favourable polling numbers, the FN still needs to get its voters out on Sunday. 

"The European elections are kind of a political scrutiny used by people to blow off steam and express their mood - in this case, their bad mood," said Riviere. "The question is: Will the electorate go and vote on Sunday?"

- Karine Barzegar, @kgbarzegar 


Greece 


The far-right Golden Dawn party shocked many observers last Sunday when it won 16 percent of the vote in the mayoral race in Athens, and 11 percent of the vote for regional prefect. 

Greece is holding a run-off vote in its local and regional elections on the same day as its poll for the European parliamentary elections, on May 25. 

"The great democratic issue at stake is the high percentage won by Golden Dawn in Athens and the Attica region," said socialist leader and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos after Sunday's vote. "All political and social forces believing in democracy and human rights must fight forcefully against Nazism and political violence." 

Golden Dawn significantly increased its support since winning seven percent of the popular vote in a general election two years ago, which enabled it to win seats in parliament for the first time. Recent opinion polls show the party is set to win 7-11 percent of the European parliamentary vote. 

This is no mean feat for a party that has, since last September, been stripped of parliamentary immunity from prosecution and of $2m a year in state funding. One-third of its members of parliament, including its leader and deputy leader, are in jail on charges of participating in a criminal organisation. 

The case against Golden Dawn stems from the killing of a left-wing rapper in Athens on September 18, 2013. The conservative government and Supreme Court prosecutor believe that this was merely the latest among "dozens" of felonies including murder, manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and grievous bodily harm ordered by the party leadership over a two-year period. 

Golden Dawn contested the local elections under the name "Hellenic Dawn", and is contesting the European election as "National Dawn". Both these vehicles were created as a precautionary measure in case the party was not allowed to campaign under its original name. 

While Golden Dawn did not score well enough to enter the second round of local elections, it will likely field one or two members of European parliament. It will likely be a pariah in Brussels. The leader of France's far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, has denounced Golden Dawn as neo-Nazi - a charge it denies with little credibility since it openly embraces National Socialism. The party's popular support at home, however, offers it a sense of political restitution in the midst of its legal woes. 

That may be enough to guarantee its survival in Greece's fragmented political scene. The ruling conservative party is polling in the low 20s. Its junior coalition partner, the socialist PASOK party, has sunk so low that it has practically disappeared from opinion polls altogether. Venizelos has joined a centre-left coalition, The Olive Tree, which is polling about five percent. 

Even the radical left Syriza, which is now the main alternative to the ruling conservatives, is not doing discernibly better. Given that Greece's political forces see the local and European elections as little more than positioning for the next general election, Golden Dawn does not seem to be doing badly at all.

- John Psaropoulos, @TheNewAthenian


Hungary 


Hungary's centre-right Fidesz party enjoyed a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in April. 

But the country's far-right nationalist Jobbik party - which has been accused of overt anti-Semitism and racism against ethnic Romas - also performed well, garnering more than 20 percent of the vote. 

This represented a gain of four percentage points from the previous national elections, and was the most successful showing of any far-right party in the EU. 

Now, polls suggest that Jobbik will place second in Hungary in the European parliamentary elections, possibly winning five of 21 seats allocated to Hungary. This is despite the fact that numerous scandals have recently surrounded the party. 

According to Szabolcs Pogonyi, a professor specialising in nationalism and an editor of news website Budapost, Jobbik's popularity stems from a strong feeling of disenfranchisement among young voters in Hungary. 

"Jobbik is a coalition that mirrors dissatisfaction in society. This is a powerful bunch of people who feel neglected by the mainstream parties, excluded from opportunities, excluded by the mainstream parties," Pogonyi told Al Jazeera. 

The party's platform is one of ultra-nationalist populism, and its stances on many issues are not classifiable on the traditional left-right spectrum. 

Jobbik opposes the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, but supports loans and monetary assistance from Russia. The party is environmentally conscious, championing animal rights and environmental protection, but with a nationalist twist. Water, a "natural treasure" of Hungary, must be protected from what it describes as "foreign interest groups", according to Jobbik's website. 

The party is openly anti-Israel, and its policies and rhetoric are often considered anti-Semitic. In 2012, Jobbik member of parliament Marton Gyongyosi called for a list to be made of Hungarians with Jewish ancestry serving in government, claiming they posed a threat to national security. After these comments drew international condemnation and large protests, Gyongyosi claimed he was only referring to Hungarians with Israeli passports. 

Paramilitary groups linked to Jobbik have patrolled Roma neighbourhoods and villages in the countryside, using intimidation and sometimes violence to "protect" Hungarian citizens from Romani crime. 

Yet actions such as these have helped to boost the party's popularity among some young voters. "The right becomes the forbidden fruit. Being a Jobbik voter means you are tough, you are smart, you have your integrity," Laszlo Csaba, professor of international relations and European studies at the Budapest's Central European University, said. 

As for their prospects in the European parliamentary vote, Csaba said Jobbik's' voice "will be heard, along with the other far-right parties in the European Parliament".

What exactly that will entail remains to be seen. 

- Creede Newton, @creedenewton

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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