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Europe

Will Anti-EU parties dominate upcoming European elections?

© Photo: AFP

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2014-05-04

Across Europe, far-right, anti-EU parties are enjoying a surge in popularity. Now, they could be poised to make a big impact in the upcoming European parliamentary elections, taking place from May 22-25.

Among them is France’s National Front (FN) party, led by the fiery Marine Le Pen.

Last Thursday, Le Pen addressed thousands of supporters at a May Day rally in Paris, where she made a passionate appeal for a show of strength at the polls.

“On May 25, put an end to this system that despises you ... turn your back on the dishonour and capitulation,” she told her supporters.

“No to Brussels, yes to France. Do not fall into the trap of abstention. Do not disappoint me, go and vote!”

According to a April 25 poll by CSA on behalf of the BFM-TV channel and French regional daily Nice-Matin, the FN will be battling it out with the centre-right UMP to come out on top among French voters, leaving the ruling Socialists in third place.

The party is on track for 24 percent of the vote, said the poll, leading the party’s 86-year-old founder and Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to claim the FN could come away with 15 to 20 representatives in the 751-seat European Parliament, up from its current three.

‘Disenchanted’ public

Across the Channel in the UK it is a similar story. There, the UK Independence Party, which like the FN campaigns on an anti-EU, anti-immigration platform, is also battling for first place in the upcoming elections.

A recent ComRes/ITV News poll put support for UKIP at 38 percent among UK voters for the European elections – an increase of eight points from a month earlier and a figure that could see the party significantly increase its current share of nine MEPs.

The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, told the BBC on April 30 that UKIP is on track to cause a political “earthquake” in the elections.

Like the FN, UKIP has been riding a wave of eursocepticism, triggered largely by disenchantment with mainstream politics among working-class voters, who have borne the brunt of the financial crisis and rising unemployment.

“The far right discourse is succeeding in its bid to convince a public which is disenchanted, which no longer believes in the proposals made by traditional parties and mistrusts the European project which they no longer understand,” a report by the Robert Schuman Foundation think tank said in April.

This is a pattern being seen all over the EU, not just Britain and France. Far-right, anti-EU parties in Austria, Greece, Italy, Finland and the Netherlands could be set to win “a great many votes” in the European elections, the report said.

The tide of far-right support has certainly got the EU’s mainstream politicians worried.
France’s Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned voters Saturday not to “give up ground to the extreme right” when they go to the polls later this month.

“It is up to us to continue the European dream,” he told a meeting of the Young Socialists organization. “We must beat the extremists.”

No anti-EU ‘tsunami’

But others say fears of an anti-EU landslide at the elections are largely unfounded.
There would be no eurosceptic “tsunami” at the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats bloc, told FRANCE 24 in February.

“These people will still be a minority,” he said. “It will be perhaps an increased minority but one should not suggest they can dominate the European Parliament.”

Ultimately though, in-fighting and rivalries between Europe’s various anti-EU parties could be the main barrier to their becoming an effective force in the European Parliament, even with a significant rise in seats.

While 26 of the 47 far-right MEPs currently in the European Parliament are members of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, the other 21 are unattached and efforts to form cross-border alliances between parties have often faltered.

Most recently, UKIP’s Farage snubbed an invitation from the FN to form an alliance in Europe, claiming the French party was too tainted by anti-Semitism – a reference to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s convictions for hate-speech and Holocaust denial.

UKIP MEPs would ally instead with another anti-EU French group, Debout la Republique (Stand Up, Republic), led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, said Farage.

The FN, meanwhile, has said it has no intention to group with Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik or the British National Party in Europe.

At the same time, other major European far-right parties, such as the True Finns and Danish People’s Party, have aligned themselves with UKIP, ruling out an alliance with the FN.

“The far right parties each have their own agenda,” Robert Schuman Foundation’s April report said.

“Their division, disorganisation and their lack of discipline and common position on the future of Europe prevents them from agreeing on a political programme.”

Date created : 2014-05-04

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