25th May 2019

EU politicians express concern over rise of far-right

  • Le Pen. The commission said countries where there is the most populism are not the ones that suffer the most austerity (Photo: RemiJDN)

EU leaders share responsibility for the rise in popularity of anti-European parties, the European Commission said Monday (23 April) but rejected the notion that austerity measures are contributing to the trend.

Speaking a day after Marine Le Pen's National Front party clocked up a record 17.9 percent of the vote in first round of French presidential elections in a campaign that focused on immigration, Brussels-bashing and single-currency-bashing, the commission said "more Europe" is needed.

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"Faced with this crisis we need more Europe. We need member states to work together for the citizens. National solutions in a global village is not the way forward," said commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly.

He added that all EU leaders as well as the commission bore part of the blame.

"There is indeed a share of responsibility for all EU leaders - and we are part of them so we are ready to look at that."

His words come amid widespread concern that the prolonged economic crisis is contributing to increased nationalism, protectionism and euroscepticism. Nationalist parties scored well in the latest elections in Sweden, Hungary and Finland.

Attempts to rein in deficit spending are already causing political difficulty in many other member states.

Even as it was becoming clear that Le Pen had persuaded almost one in five French voters to send their ballot her way, in neighbouring Holland the government was collapsing.

The eurosceptic anti-immigrant Freedom Party, which came third in 2010 elections, at the weekend withdrew its support from the minority government over The Hague's attempts to bring its budget deficit in line with EU rules.

Meeting for a regular council on Monday, EU foreign ministers expressed concern about Europe's political health and specifically about Le Pen's performance.

"I'm concerned with sentiments that are against open societies, against an open Europe," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said. Austria's Michael Spindelegger said the result "has to give us food for thought."

Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg took the strongest line. He directly accused the incumbent French leader Nicolas Sarkozy of contributing to the result by hardening his rhetoric and challenging core EU policies.

"If you repeat every day that we must change Schengen [the EU passport-free area], that we have to have a tough immigration policy, that we have to talk about French exceptionalism, that is grist to the mill of the National Front," he said.

For his aprt, the EU commission's Bailly cautioned against linking austerity measures with the euro-backlash, however.

"The countries where there is most populism are not the ones that suffer from the current austerity," he said.

One likely test will be the Greek elections on 6 May - the same day as the second round of the French elections. The country's far-right Golden Dawn party, with its neo-facist roots, is hoping to break the three percent threshold and to make it into parliament.

They see their electoral chances as improving because Greek people are increasingly weary of the harsh austerity measures they have to endure in turn for EU and IMF loans.

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