Sunday

3rd Mar 2024

Church enters the fray in European elections

  • Mountain cross: the church says low turnout could see far-right parties score high (Photo: Wikipedia)

Christian churches have in the UK, Austria and Poland spoken out against far-right parties in the EU elections, while in Sweden a fringe movement calling for internet freedoms is gaining ground.

The UK's most senior Anglican clerics, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, at the weekend urged mainstream voters to go to the ballot box on 7 June in order to keep extremist parties, such as the BNP, out of the European Parliament.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"It would be tragic if the understandable sense of anger and disillusionment with some MPs over recent revelations [on expenses] led voters to shun the ballot box," the pair said in a statement, adding that "some parties" want to exploit "fear and division within communities."

The Austrian church criticised what it calls the exploitation of Christian symbols after the leader of the far-right FPO party recently held up a cross at a demonstration against a Muslim centre. The FPO's election platform uses the slogan "The West in Christian Hands."

The cross "must not be misused as a fighting symbol against other religions," the Archbishop of Vienna, Roman Catholic cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, said.

Polish archbishop Jozef Zycinski also urged people to vote against radical groups. "We hear Poles would like to play a big role in the evangelisation of Europe, but we won't achieve this by sitting at home and grumbling," he said.

Popular Polish radio preacher, Tadeusz Rydzyk, himself associated with strongly right-wing views, got more directly involved by urging his flock in a weekend broadcast to vote for the hard conservative Law and Justice party's candidates Arkadiusz Mularczyk and Przemyslaw Przybylski.

Ireland's second religion, the old gaelic sport of hurling, has opted not to play a political role, however. The hurling authority, the GAA, at the weekend censured its ex-president, Sean Kelly, for bringing a campaign bus to a match in Thurles.

The archbishops' intervention in the UK attracted criticism from the Liberal party for crossing the line between church and state. "I don't think you beat the BNP by telling people how to vote," Liberal leader Nick Clegg told the BBC.

Far-right parties are becoming increasingly strong players in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria and France. But groups such as the BNP in the UK, the League of Polish Families in Poland, the Czech NP and Hungary's Jobbik are stuck on the fringe despite some slick campaigning.

The new face of Jobbik, which runs a black-shirted militia reminiscent of 1930s fascist paramilitaries, is an elegant lawyer and mother of three, Krisztina Morvai.

Low election turnout could help radical groups get a disproportionally high result in the EU poll. In Austria, just 38 percent say they will definitely vote despite the main parties spending €3.5 million each on campaigns. In Bulgaria , only 38 percent plan to vote as well. In France, 54 percent say they will definitely not vote.

Italy is trying to woo voters by offering a 60 percent ticket discount for all passengers using trains to get to the ballots, Il Sole 24 Ore reports.

Internet anarchists

In Sweden, the mainstream social democrat and ruling conservative parties continue to dominate the polls, but have lost ground since April, while the Pirate Party - which advocates copyright abolition - is tipped to get 4.4 percent and make it to Brussels for the first time.

The pirates have accused Swedish local authorities of electoral abuse in refusing to take pro-pirate ballots in early voting, using an undercover film circulated on blogs to prove their claim.

The Swedes' German cousin, Piratenpartei, is hoping to get a more modest 0.5 percent to qualify for EU funding for future campaigns.

The internet has also become a source of embarrassment for the anti-Lisbon treaty Libertas party. Polish website naszparlament.pl says Libertas inflated its popularity in online polls by creating fictional identities named after Polish kings to vote for itself multiple times.

Libertas is also set for a blow from Polish anti-Communism hero Lech Walesa, who backed the party at rallies in Rome and Madrid earlier this month.

"I am ready to go to Ireland [on the eve of the EU elections] ...to say 'my beloved Irishmen, you should support the treaty'," Mr Walesa told Gazeta Wyborcza.

Eggs and exaggerations

Meanwhile, campaigning is becoming more creative on both the left and right sides of the spectrum.

The Spanish and Portuguese socialist prime ministers Jose Luis Zapatero and Jose Socrates held two joint rallies on Saturday in Valencia, Spain and Coimbra, Portugal. Socialists in Catalonia have put up red billboards with the faces of Italian and Polish right-wing politicians, Silvio Berlusconi and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and the caption "They also want to change the world."

In the Netherlands , Socialist Party leader Dennis de Jong claimed that over 170,000 people work for the European Commission (the commission says the real number is around 30,000).

The German conservative CDU and CSU parties on Monday are to put out a joint platform focusing on popular issues such as opposition to Turkey's EU accession and EU tax harmonisation.

The Romanian centre-right PDL party at a rally promised voters more "euros in your pockets," better pensions and millions invested in tourism.

In the Czech Republic , the main CSSD socialist party has been plagued by a series of egg-throwing incidents. A meeting in Pribram on Friday saw one critic bring CSSD leader Jiri Paroubek an egg on stage. On Thursday, Mr Paroubek kicked a carton of eggs off his platform, spraying bystanders.

Correction: the original version of the story said "the real" number of commission staff is 30,000, but the figure depends on which commission organs you count

EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit

The European Commission will release €50m out of €82m in funds for the UN aid agency (UNRWA) operating in Gaza. The remaining €32m will come pending an audit. The commission has received no evidence to support Israeli allegations against UNRWA.

'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child

During a plenary session in Strasbourg, an MEP was denied access to the chamber because he was carrying his young child, due to unforeseen circumstances. The episode shows parliament's rules need to be updated, several MEPs told EUobserver.

Commission plays down row over Rwanda minerals pact

The European Commission has played down a diplomatic row over its recent minerals agreement with Rwanda, after Congolese president Felix Tshishekedi, who accuses Rwanda of plundering his country's natural resources, described the deal as a "provocation in very bad taste".

Opinion

Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?

Europeans deserve a digital euro that transcends the narrow interests of the banking lobby and embodies the promise of a fairer and more competitive monetary and financial landscape.

'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child

During a plenary session in Strasbourg, an MEP was denied access to the chamber because he was carrying his young child, due to unforeseen circumstances. The episode shows parliament's rules need to be updated, several MEPs told EUobserver.

Opinion

Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?

Europeans deserve a digital euro that transcends the narrow interests of the banking lobby and embodies the promise of a fairer and more competitive monetary and financial landscape.

Latest News

  1. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit
  2. 'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child
  3. Commission plays down row over Rwanda minerals pact
  4. EU socialists set to anoint placeholder candidate
  5. Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?
  6. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  7. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats
  8. EU won't yet commit funding UN agency in Gaza amid hunger

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us