Sunday

24th Mar 2019

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.

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"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

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