Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

European Parliament Elections Are Kind to Far Right, Especially in East

June 28, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Self-Defense, the Peasants’ Party and the League of Polish Families might be unfamiliar names for most European politicians, but all three far-right parties are set to enter the European Parliament following elections earlier this month. The three parties polled close to 40 percent of the vote in Poland, the largest of 10 new countries that joined the European Union in May. If one or more of the parties chooses to ally with other far-right groups in Europe, they may be able to create a formal faction in the Parliament.

Until now, the far-right has failed to break into the European Parliament because it either was unable to muster support in a sufficient number of countries or could not overcome mutual animosity between its various components.

Now, though, with nationalist, xenophobic and sometimes openly anti-Semitic parties helped by exceptionally low turnouts and good vote-getting in some Eastern European countries, the goal of! a united European far-right faction could become a reality.

That would require at least 19 legislators from at least five countries. If they can meet that standard, the parties would get official E.U. funding, offices, cars and a certain degree of respectability.

The results of the June 10-13 European elections show that 66 legislators from across Europe will not be aligned with any of the current official parliamentary groups. Around 40 of them can be described as xenophobic, and some of them as openly racist and anti-Semitic.

Among mainstream political parties, virtually all ran national rather than pan-European campaigns, but one small party in the Paris region ran for a different, hypothetical country: Palestine.

The Euro-Palestine Party aimed to elect a spokesperson for Palestine in the European Parliament. It ran a virulently anti-Israel campaign but failed miserably, garnering less than 2 percent of the vote in Ile de France, the region comprising the! Paris metropolitan area, which has a large Muslim population.

The party’s candidates included a well-known comic, Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who recently was found guilty of making anti-Semitic remarks, as well as a number of prominent anti-Zionist Jews. However, the party failed to break through the 4 percent barrier to enter the legislature, and saddled itself with a $125,000 debt to election authorities.

While that probably was the only attempt to campaign directly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the composition of the new Parliament is not without relevance for supporters of Israel.

Overall, the center-right European People’s Party, or EPP, consolidated its position as the largest party in the legislature. With only 276 seats in the 732-member legislature, however, it remains well short of a majority.

The EPP, which is made up of most of Europe’s mainstream conservative parties, generally has been credited with a more balanced position toward Israel than left-wing parties, which have been more critical of Israel’s treatm! ent of the Palestinians.

Gains for Euro-skeptic parties could go both ways as far as Jewish groups are concerned. While some of the parties ultimately could stand in the way of collective E.U. policy on issues such as anti-Semitism, others, such as the United Kingdom’s Independence Party and Italy’s post-fascist National Alliance, are seen as Atlanticists with a gut-level support for Israel.

The far-right wasn’t close to being one of the big winners in the elections, but it rode a wave of discontent with E.U. institutions among established members of the bloc and, in some cases, polled well in countries that just joined the union.

Overall, the gains by nationalist and Euro-skeptic parties will have little effect on the political balance in the Parliament. Still, they do indicate an increasing trend of voters that prefer national aspirations over the interests of Europe as a whole.

In some cases, far-right parties are regional rather than nationalist, such as I! taly’s Northern League and the Vlaams Blok in Belgium.

The Blok po lled extremely well in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region in the north of Belgium, where it took 24 percent of the vote and almost topped the poll. The Blok will take three seats at the European Parliament, where, but for its historic animosity toward Jean-Marie Le Pen’s French-speaking National Front, it could join up with other far-right, xenophobic groups.

For some other far-right parties, a predicted surge did not materialize, as they had to compete with right-wing populist movements running on anti-European tickets.

In Britain for example, where the British National Party was looking to capitalize on recent gains in local council elections, the party failed to make an electoral breakthrough and will not be represented in the European Parliament.

In France, the National Front failed to make much headway, polling around 10 percent nationally, well below its support in recent regional and national elections.

Similarly, in Austria, Jorg Haider’s Freedom Part! y polled badly where it had to compete with a populist anti-corruption candidate as well as Austria’s mainstream political parties. The Freedom Party nonetheless will be represented with three members in the Parliament, where it might break new ground in a working relationship with the seven legislators from the National Front.

Other far-right alliances may prove more problematic.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether the antagonism the far-right groups often feel for one another proves stronger than their undisguised animosity for foreigners, Jews and other European minority groups.

Recommended from JTA