Saturday

19th Aug 2017

Far-right 'lite' to push for EU referendum on Turkish accession

  • Vienna: Far-right lite strategising took place in the Austrian capital for a second year running (Photo: Wikipedia/Thomas Binderhofer)

Europe's far-right 'lite' parties are to push for a pan-European referendum on Turkish accession to the bloc under the EU's new rules.

Six extreme right parties meeting in Vienna on Saturday (23 october) - Austria's Freedom Party (FPO), Belgium's Flemish separatists of the Vlaams Belang, the Danish People's Party, Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League, the Slovak National Party and the Sweden Democrats - are about to launch their own citizens' campaign hot on the heels of the success of the left-wing online pressure group Avaaz, which earlier this month collected a million names demanding a ban on genetically modified organisms across the EU.

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Under Lisbon Treaty rules, which entered into life in January this year, the European Citizens' Initiative forces the European Commission to consider proposing legislation if a million EU voters sign a petition.

The Vienna conference, entitled "EU after the Lisbon Treaty" also discussed Islam in Europe and immigration, two hobby-horses of the parties.

The meeting follows a similar gathering in Vienna last year in advance of a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, where most of the same clutch of parties strategised how to campaign against passage of the treaty.

While the traditional far right is explicitly anti-EU, and the so-called far-right 'lite' parties are certainly eurosceptic, the parties in Vienna on Saturday said they opposed Turkish accession in order to defend the Union.

"That would be the end of the European Union," said FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache, "and the beginning of a Eurasian-African Union that would completely go against our European peace project and must therefore not be allowed."

The meeting represents a further shift in the realignment on the far right.

Many of the attendees have strived to strip themselves of any association with the fascist nostalgia of the hardcore far right, focussing on Islam and immigration and embracing Israel, and met with considerable success in recent years.

Most recently, the nationalist Sweden Democrats, which in 2001 cleansed itself of its hardcore element (which would later establish themselves as the National Democrats) in September's 2010 general election crossed for the first time the four percent threshold necessary for a parliamentary representation, polling 5.7 percent and winning 20 seats.

The British National Party, Hungary's paramilitary-linked Jobbik and Bulgaria's Ataka were all explicitly not invited to Vienna by the Freedom Party organisers, who described such parties as being on the extreme right.

At last year's Vienna conference, organised by the FPO's education division, Ataka and France's Front National had been invited.

Saturday's Vienna congress meeting will also form part of the FPO's attempts to court the European Freedom and Democracy (EFD) grouping in the European Parliament led by Britain's non-far-right UK Independence Party.

The FPO was frozen out of the eurosceptic grouping in the chamber by Ukip in the horse-trading among different parties in the wake of last year's European Parliament elections. But the EFD nevertheless has a number of member parties whose ideology is considered hard right by most monitors of the scene. While comfortable with these other parties, Ukip for its part wants nothing to do with the FPO.

However, the Northern League, the Danish People's Party and Slovakia's SNS, who sit with Ukip in the EFD, were all at the FPO event and are on friendlier terms with the Austrian party.

According to sources close to the parliamentary grouping, Ukip "has tried to keep its distance as the FPO are simply too extreme."

"There is something of a realignment going on, although it's not a fixed situation. It's in flux. If these people can manage to make the changes to their parties or convince people that they have nothing to do with the genuine far right, that people understand they are not extreme, they have a real chance."

"But it's also about the money. A larger grouping in the European Parliament brings in more money, and it's a lonely place to be sitting on your own without a group," said the source.

The FPO currently sits in Brussels unattached to any parliamentary grouping.

"There has been an overture from the FPO to join for quite some months now. But I don't think it's going to happen," the contact said.

According to the European Parliament, adding another couple of members in general would not result in a great deal more money, but adding members that use another language would produce a "step-change" in their funding. The group has no german-speaking MEPs.

It has yet to be decided whether the EFD will participate as a group in the anti-Turkey petition drive, but the grouping is unanimous in opposing the country's accession the bloc, EFD spokesman Hermann Kelly told EUobserver.

"All members of the EFD are extremely critical of Turkish accession. Turkey is too big, too poor and too different," he said.

"The Turkish state is guilty of the abuse of basic human rights, and has invaded and continues to occupy the Republic of Cyprus," he added. He rejected however that such a perspective was unique to the far right.

"The EFD is a group of democractic parties and in no way accepts the sobriquet 'right-wing'."

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