20th Mar 2018

Crisis likely to bolster far right in EU parliament

Extreme right parties, from anti-immigrant and xenophobic populists to outright neo-fascists, are almost certain to increase their presence in the European Parliament after the 2009 elections unless the European Union and mainstream parties wake up to the threat and take action, long-time monitors of far right activities are warning.

UK Labour MEP Glyn Ford, one of the parliament's own leading experts on extreme right parties and author of the European Parliament's landmark 1991 inquiry into racism and xenophobia in Europe, has said that ahead of the financial crisis, the various far-right parties were already on track to achieving a rise in their numbers from the current 57 deputies to between 60 and 70 in the June 2009 elections.

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  • Far right rally in Germany (Photo: Steffen Sebert 2005)

However, if the financial crisis results in a sharp increase in unemployment across the bloc, Mr Ford worries that such parties will take advantage of the anger and bitterness such economic dislocation causes and achieve an even higher seat count.

"The 'Fascist Right' would probably win high twenties to low thirties," given their current levels of support in different member states, Mr Ford predicts. "Equally, the 'Fascist Lite' parties would gain thirty to forty seats."

The centre-left deputy and watcher of the far right across Europe distinguishes between the hardcore neo-fascism of groups such as the Greater Romania Party and the British National Party, and the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic populists of such tendencies as the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Danish People's Party, who nonetheless have no fascist roots.

"It's complicated because they're not all classic fascist groupings ...but we're likely to see them both grow. Not everywhere, but there's been a continuous secular growth election after election for the last 25 years."

Mr Ford predicts that although the grouping of extreme right parties in the parliament - the Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty political "family" - was both founded and dissolved last year, falling apart over competing exclusivist national narratives, the far right is likely to successfully mount a second attempt to create a political grouping in the European Parliament after the elections.

He even worries there may be two different hard right groupings formed after the next parliament - one more extreme than the other.

"Unfortunately, we're likely to see the Fascist Right have enough members to form a political group again and you're probably going to get a Fascist Lite group on the side as well."

Bulgarian MEP Kristian Vigenen, the chair of the Extreme Right Watch Working Group - an initiative of the Party of European Socialists in the parliament, agrees: "The reaction of the EU to the crisis so far has been strong, but if the economic situation gets worse, we'll see a contraction of the labour markets and migrant communities will be amongst the first groups to lose their jobs."

"This of course creates a better environment for these parties," he told this website, highlighting Slovakia and his own Bulgaria as key member states in which the far-right are likely to see growth.

Crisis scapegoats>

Graeme Atkinson, the European editor of Searchlight, the respected UK journal that has soberly reported on the activities of the far right since 1975, agrees with the euro-deputies, saying: "There is a firm probability of an increase in the far right in the next parliament."

"With the global financial crisis, and the growing unemployment, this disaffection will only grow," he told EUobserver. "They will begin to look for scapegoats for the crisis and look outside the mainstream, but these groups will deliver nothing but chaos."

He believes a conservative euroscepticism will accompany the immigrant-bashing discourse: "People will be quick to blame domestic politicians and Brussels for this, for the increase in the cost of food and fuel, for issues that are largely international in scope."

Mr Atkinson say that while the phenomenon is happening across the EU, the far right in Austria and Italy in particular will see a large increase in their European representation. He expects a small increase from the right populist Flemish separatists, the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), and says that the UK's British National Party is within striking distance of one seat. Mr Ford, for his part, believes the BNP may win three seats.

"In the Netherlands, however, I'm not so sure," said the editor of Searchlight. "The non-conventional right is so fragmented and at each other's throats at the moment."

The status quo in France and Germany is unlikely to be altered - the Front National should stay roughly the same - a solid one eighth of the vote, he believes, while the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany) is unlikely to win any seats.

Mr Ford also predicts higher results for Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party) and Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (Alliance for the Future of Austria) in Austria and the anti-immigrant Lega Nord and the Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) in italy.

Far-right in the east

Searchlight's Mr Atkinson warns that "one of the biggest worries comes from the popularity of the far-right, populist spectrum in the new member states," however. "In Poland, there is a worry about the extreme parties with a thoroughly reactionary rightist agenda - anti-women's rights, anti-abortion, opposed to gay and lesbian rights - that is firmly rooted in the Roman Catholic church's more fundamentalist wing."

Likewise, he said, Hungary is now seeing the emergence of "some really quite threatening groupings, some of whom even have a paramilitary character," referring to Magyarországért Mozgalom (Movement for a Better Hungary - Jobbik for short) and its Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard).

Mr Atkinson wants the EU institutions and mainstream parties to pay more attention to what is happening in the east.

"The EU is unfortunately not taking a lot of notice of this," he said. "The real concern is in Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania, and the Czech Republic as well. In these states, there is considerable prejudice towards various minorities."

"The EU needs to sit up and take notice and defend democracy ... It's very important to contrast how quickly the EU acted around the Austrian vote for the Freedom Party in 2000 and what they are doing now. They are willing to turn a blind eye to developments in the new member states."

Mr Ford meanwhile highlighted the neo-fascist Partidul Romania Mare (Greater Romania Party) as cause for concern.

Left also to blame

Mr Atkinson has strong words for the social democratic parties as well when he explains why this is happening.

"The mainstream left bears a responsibility for this as it's moved right to the centre, moving away from their natural constituency of working people. These people, who are disillusioned, disenchanted, abandon their traditional allegiance to the social democratic or even communist parties and vote for these vehicles of protest with their easy answers about Muslims, Roma or immigrants."

Nonetheless, he is clear that there is need for engagement, but not the sensationalism that can actually aid the growth of these groups.

"It's important not to exaggerate the threat," he said. "It's not a cause for panic - they are not about to take over the parliament. Today is not 1933."

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