Meet The Far-Right Groups Who’ll Decide Europe’s Future

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"Meet The Far-Right Groups Who’ll Decide Europe’s Future"

Leaders of far-right parties in Italy, Austria, France, and the Netherlands

Leaders of far-right parties in Italy, Austria, France, and the Netherlands

CREDIT: AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

This week concluded the 2014 European elections, in which a wave of previously fringe, far-right political parties made significant gains in the European Parliament. These parties, all “eurosceptic” — opposed to membership in the European Union — although distinct, are unified in their racist, Islamophobic, and homophobic tendencies. Nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment dominate their plans for a more exclusive Europe.

The European Parliament (EP) is one governing body of the European Union, the only one directly elected by the people. The EP implements EU-wide legislation, so the success of these political parties in this year’s election will have significant impacts on Europe as a whole over the next five years — so long as they can come together and vote as a bloc. Some may have heard of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that openly admires Adolf Hitler that has been on the rise in the past few years in Greece, but here’s a guide to six far-right European political parties you might not have heard about.


United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Nigel Farage, leader of UK Independence Party and newly re-elected MEP, center, surrounded by UKIP's newly elected MEPs

Nigel Farage, leader of UK Independence Party and newly re-elected MEP, center, surrounded by UKIP’s newly elected MEPs

CREDIT: AP Photo/Sang Tan

United Kingdom Independence Party, led by charismatic, far-right Nigel Farage, is a reflection of Britain’s increased euroscepticism. Many of its members, spearheaded by Farage, have taken a firm anti-immigration stance following the influx of Bulgarians and Romanians relocating to the UK following their entrance to the European Union in 2007.

Farage, whose wife is German, has been quoted as saying he would feel uncomfortable if a Romanian family moved in next door to him. When asked the difference it would make if the family was German, he replied, “I think you know the difference. We want an immigration policy that is not just based on controlling not just quantity, but quality.”

Farage’s idea of “quality” has translated to overt racism in the UK, which has become so intolerable that the UK’s only Chinese-born parliamentarian, Anna Lo, announced she was quitting politics because of it, and rising-UKIP member Sanya-Jeet Thandi, a British-born Indian, left the party just weeks before the European elections for the same reason.

In January of 2013, the Sunday Mirror posted excerpts from UKIP’s official online forum where some of its top officials compared the gay rights movement to pedophilia. “As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the ­subject,” said Dr. Julia Gasper, a former, top-UKIP official who resigned after her comments were made public.

Despite UKIP’s anti-immigration, racist and homophobic views, the party secured 24 seats in this year’s European elections making them the top political party coming out of the UK.


Front National

National Front's Marine Le Pen and founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

National Front’s Marine Le Pen and founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

CREDIT: AP Photo/Claude Paris

The Front National (FN) took first place in France’s elections, with 25 percent of the electorate, and a whopping 24 seats in the European Parliament. Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the party in 1972, as a coalition of various French nationalist groups. Although the party shares the name of the French Resistance movement, a far-left organization led by members of the French Communist Party that resisted the Nazi occupation, it could hardly be any more different. The far-right contemporary FN has been widely characterized as racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Its founder has been accused on numerous occasions of anti-Semitism, and even Holocaust denial. He was convicted in 1987, 1999, and 2009 for “minimising the Holocaust,” describing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers as “what one calls a detail” of history.

Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, has devoted herself to doing damage control for the party’s image, ousting many of the parties more notorious members. She has even gone so far as to threaten to sue those who call the party “extreme right,” yet many are not convinced that her attempts are genuine, seeing them not as ideological changes, but mere cosmetic ones, to appeal to less conservative voters. In the London School of Economics and Political Science blog, Aurelien Mondon writes, in spite of its attempts to appear otherwise, “The French Front National is still an extreme right-wing party.”

Mondon explains Le Pen has “made it increasingly clear that her moderate stance [is] little more than a façade.” He details several instances of the party engaging in overt racism, including calling people of color “monkey.” One can find “prevalence and public acceptance of crude racism beyond the elite of the party.”

Their antipathy has been particularly directed at Muslims. Unifying virtually all of the parties in this list is an overt hatred for Muslims—or, more specifically, at those of Muslim cultures. FN’s hatred is particularly intense. In July of last year, Le Pen likened Muslims praying to Nazis, saying “some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the Occupation, so let’s talk about Occupation, because that is what is happening here.


The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom

CREDIT: AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis

The Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom did not do as favorably as it has in past elections in following the recent racist remarks of its leader Geert Wilders.

While addressing voters in the Hague, Wilders asked, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?” When responded with chants of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!”, Wilders told the crowd, “We’ll take care of that.”

In the past, Wilders has likened the Qur’an to Mein Kampf and claimed “Islam threatens the whole world.” Dutch voters did not take kindly to Wilders’ comments, and the Party for Freedom lost two of its five seats in the Parliament after acquiring just 12.2 percent of the total vote in the Netherlands.


Freedom Party of Austria

Heinz-Christian Strache head of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party

Heinz-Christian Strache head of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ronald Zak

Despite its blatant Islamophobia, The Freedom Party ended up doubling its seats in the European Parliament after this year’s elections after its third-place finish in Austria.

Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache was interviewed by The Telegraph where he defended his party’s stance by saying, “It is not about keeping Austria white, just about protecting its traditional community. We see Europe as a Christian, and we believe it’s at risk of Islamisation.”

He also echoed fears similar to UKIP’s Farage saying, “I have heard that every second name in some schools in Britain will soon be Mohammed, rather than John or Paul. Do you want the residents of Britain to become a minority and to have English as a minority language in a school?”

The party’s success may be attributed to the Hans Peter Martin List, another anti-EU party, not running in this year’s elections. In 2009, the party won more than 17 percent of the vote.


Jobbik

Chairman of nationalist Jobbik, Gabor Vona

Chairman of nationalist Jobbik, Gabor Vona

CREDIT: AP Photo/MTI, Janos Marjai

The Jobbik party in Hungary garnered 14.7 percent of votes cast (the same in the 2009 elections), and now boasts three MEPs. It is said the party is linked to Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and the UK’s far-right British National Party.

In a parliamentary debate in 2012, Jobbik deputy Marton Gyongyosi illustrated the party’s overt anti-Semitism by suggesting the government create a list “to see how many [citizens] are of Jewish origin and present a certain national security risk to Hungary.” The party has also called for the construction of detention camps for what it calls Roma “deviants.”


Danish People’s Party

Morten Messerschmidt, principal candidate for Danish People's Party

Morten Messerschmidt, principal candidate for Danish People’s Party

CREDIT: AP Photo/Polfoto, Peter Hove Olesen

The Danish People’s Party (DPP), which previously had only two seats, now occupies four of Denmark’s 13 allocated seats in the European Parliament, with 26.7 percent of the vote. According to The Party Program of the Danish People’s Party, as established October 2002, the party emphasizes a “need for a strong national defence, and secure and safe national borders,” stating it feels “a historic obligation to protect our country, its people and the Danish cultural heritage.”

In spite of the frequency of use of the terms, the program tends to be somewhat ambiguous in regards to how exactly concepts like “Danish independence and freedom” are defined. The program does however explicitly state opposition to the European Union, while insisting Denmark should remain in NATO and the UN. It furthermore maintains that “Denmark’s constitutional monarchy must be preserved” and that the “Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church is the church of the Danish people.”

As is common among right-wing groups, the DPP boasts a “tough on crime” policy, speaks of the family as “the heart” of society, and insists on the importance of preserving and strengthening its national heritage. The party takes this third position to its nationalist extreme, however, insisting that, in its own words, “Denmark is not an immigrant-country and never has been. Thus we will not accept transformation to a multiethnic society.”

The DPP has by no means shied away from engaging in racist stereotypes in its critique of immigration. DPP founder Pia Kjærsgaard told a critic, “If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge.”

In an effort to increase its legitimacy, the party has striven to distance itself from the French National Front and attempted to form an alliance with the UK’s Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron. DPP member of the European Parliament Morten Messerschmidt explained “We want as much influence as possible in order to pull Europe in another direction, namely in the British direction.”

***

What is responsible for this surge in far-right politics? Most point to the widespread acceptance of austerity measures across the Eurozone, imposed in response to the 2008 economic crisis, that have only proven an absolute disaster, plunging European workers into even worse conditions. The European Commission’s own economist Jan in ’t Veld argued austerity made things significantly worse. Unemployment has increased so greatly it has broken records, social spending has seen drastic cuts, and Eurozone debt hit its all-time high, even while economists like Paul Krugman warned “slashing spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy even more.”

Overall, European voter turnout was estimated at about 43 percent of the population, evincing widespread disillusionment with the contemporary political climate, and, given the prominence of these parties in some of Europe’s largest countries, the fate of the EU looks grim.

Although all of the above parties are eurosceptic, it should be noted that not all eurosceptic parties are technically right-wing. Some leftist parties criticize the EU for promoting what they see as anti-democratic, top-down, neoliberal policies, creating “free trade” agreements and zones that undermine local economies and facilitate exploitation by large, multinational corporations. Most eurosceptic parties, however, oppose the EU not for these reasons, but because they prefer nationalist, protectionist policies.

Instead of uniting against austerity measures (although anti-austerity popular movements certainly have been active), many citizens have been attracted to this nationalist and protectionist politics, buying right-wing myths about immigrants “stealing” natives’ jobs. The elementary economic fact that, by expelling fellow citizens, demand will decrease, and jobs will ergo be destroyed, appears to elude these parties. Progressives in the European Union do have some bright spots to look toward in the aftermath of this election, but the rise of the far-right remains a worrying trend for the continent.

Shannon Greenwood and Ben Norton are interns at ThinkProgress.

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