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European extremists’ caucus seen as non-factor

Bruno Gollnisch, a politician on France´s extreme right wing, is likely to be the leader of the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty caucus. (European Parliament)

Bruno Gollnisch, a politician on France´s extreme right wing, is likely to be the leader of the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty caucus. (European Parliament)

PRAGUE, Jan. 15 (JTA) — A union of anti-Semites, racists and xenophobes in a European institution has become fodder for journalists and human rights advocates, but some analysts say it has little significance for policy and is not necessarily evidence of the extreme right’s ascension. The creation Jan. 10 of Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty, a European Parliament caucus of about 20 extreme-right politicians, is likely to be led by Bruno Gollnisch, who is on trial for Holocaust denial in France. Another Identity ideological guru is Bulgaria’s Dimitar Stoyanov, who claims that Jews exploit poor countries for economic benefit.

As of Jan. 12, the group had 19 members and was expecting the commitment of one more. Twenty members would grant it official parliamentary stature under E.U. rules.

“The union of these loonies in the European Parliament makes the work there a bit more exciting for observers, but their ideology has no real impact, said Katinka Barysch, chief economist for the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank. “I mean, what is the right-wing, anti-Semitic position on farm subsidies?”

Barysch noted that sensitive issues concerning Europe’s minorities, immigration and security are determined at the national level.

The 785-member European Parliament has not been taken seriously, as it has little power. It cannot pass laws, but the European Commission does need its approval to enact most legislation, much of which is devoted to issues of commerce and the environment.

Still, MEPS, as the members of the Parliament are known, attempt to influence the nature of discourse at the more potent European Commission and in the wider European political domain.

The new European far-right grouping has been widely condemned by anti-racism activists as well as other members of the European Parliament.

“I will write to the other democratic leaders seeking their support to suspend the electoral system next week, so as to stop them from getting any significant positions within the Parliament,” Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists, the second-largest group in the European Parliament, told Reuters, referring to the Identity caucus.

The European Parliament, with headquarters in Brussels and Strasbourg, France, holds elections starting Sunday for president, vice presidents and committee chairs.

Barysch said extremist parties sometimes fare surprisingly well in European Parliament elections because they are an easier place to register dissatisfaction with a protest vote for an extremist.

“Your votes do not affect your pensions, internal security, education. That’s why you tend to get more loonies there,” he said. “The vote means less.”

The Parliament’s various political caucuses gain access to about $1.55 million in funding for promotion and staff support, motivating like-minded politicians to unite.

For years Europe’s extreme right has been trying to create a European Parliament caucus, but it was the admission of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union in January that finally provided the minimum number of parliamentarians needed to establish the new group.

Arguably the most radical representative of Identity is Stoyanov of Bulgaria’s Attack Party, which printed a list of 1,500 Bulgarian Jews on its Web site after June national elections under the headline “A plague-infected, leprous and dangerous race, which has deserved to be eradicated since the day of its creation.”

Attack is definitely “the most openly anti-Semitic of the extremist parliamentary parties in Europe,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the Paris-based European Jewish Congress.

Identify also includes far-right members from six countries, including Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France; Social Alternative in Italy, represented by Alessandra Mussolini, Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter; and the Greater Romania Party, whose leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, accused Romania’s president in the 1990s of “selling out to the Zionists.” Tudor has since recanted his anti-Jewish rhetoric.

LePen was widely reported in 2002 as referring to the Holocaust as a “mere detail of history.”

Barysch observed, however, that like other extremist groups in the former Eastern Bloc, Attack and Greater Romania reserve their greatest vitriol for the countries’ Roma, or Gypsy, populations.

Andreas Molzer, Identity’s Austrian representative — he was expelled from Jorg Haider’s extreme right Freedom Party for being too radical — told JTA that the new parliamentary group does not have an anti-Jewish or anti-Gypsy agenda.

Molzer is an editor of Zur Zeit, a magazine that published an article by a priest who alleged that the Jewish blood libel was real.

“We have a minimal program,” he said. “We are against the European constitution; we are for only a loose confederation of European states; we are against Turkey joining the E.U.; we are against immigration.”

Identity’s formation invites greater scrutiny of the strength of Europe’s far-right parties, as organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have been quick to point out the parties’ racist roots following the group’s formation.

In Western Europe, the 1990s was the heyday for far-right movements in France, Italy and Austria, according to Piero Ignazi, a professor of comparative politics at the University Bologna in Italy and a leading expert on extremism.

“If you want a forecast, I am not so much worried,” he said. Europe’s right-wing extremist political parties “will not have the capacity to overcome a certain level.”

Ignazi said Europe’s strongest far-right group is the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, which received about 20 percent of voter support in October 2005 regional elections.

Vlaams Belang has no openly anti-Jewish agenda, but tends to focus its wrath on Belgium’s Muslim population, and even seeks conservative Jewish support.

In the former Eastern Bloc, however, ultraconservative nationalist parties with a history of anti-Semitism became junior partners in government coalitions last year in Poland and Slovakia, despite the parties’ low electoral support. More centrist parties needed them to create parliamentary majorities.

“How much they can affect other parties, that’s the problem,” Ignazi said about small, extremist parties in government. He added that intolerance of anti-Semitism “is a core quality of Western European politics but is not a feature of the more nationalistic, politically incorrect” discourse in the East.

The creation of a group like Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty might, paradoxically, have a positive outcome.

“There will be more awareness within public opinion of the danger of extreme right-wing movements and elements,” Cwajgenbaum said.

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