Europe’s far-right challenge
When the French magazine Minute last week ran a front page depicting Guyanan-born justice minister Christiane Taubira with the caption “Clever as a monkey, Taubira gets the banana back,” it sank to new depths of racism. Implausible claims that this was “satire” failed to stem a genuine wave of revulsion and condemnation that swept across the country. Prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred will follow, and even the far-right Front National (FN), which expelled a councillor recently for expressing similar views, felt the need to attack Minute, until recently a strong backer of the party.
But that Minute even dared carry the front page is a measure of a growing confidence that France, and much of the EU, is an increasingly comfortable and tolerant place for far-right and even racist views. Parties promoting xenophobia are in many cases, like the FN, notching up poll support in excess of 20 per cent and threatening serious gains in the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections. They are also, worryingly, beginning to change the political discourse throughout Europe, particularly on immigration.
The poisonous xenophobic continuum runs from openly Nazi and violent Golden Dawn in Greece – 17 per cent in last year’s elections – and Hungary’s anti-semitic, anti-Roma thugs in Jobbik (similar support), through anti-immigrant or anti-Islamic parties like the Freedom Parties in Austria and the Netherlands, Italy’s Liga Nord or Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (25 per cent in the general election), the Danish People’s Party (DPP - 17 per cent), the Swedish Democrats (SD), France’s FN, Britain’s UKIP (polling 22 per cent), Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (VB), and Poland’s ex-governing Law and Justice.
Most share a Tea Party-like anti-politics populism, denouncing what they call the political elite in all the mainstream parties, a quasi-revolutionary rhetoric, jingoism, and a strong Euroscepticism. Now Marine Le Pen’s FN, already linked to the Austrian, Belgian, and Swedish parties, has signed an alliance with Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands to make common cause in the European elections. She describes it as “a movement of patriots against a powerful system which has turned our people into slaves.”
Others may yet join them, although UKIP, the Finns Party and the DPP, all part of the EP far-right Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, have made clear they find the FN’s anti-semitism a tad too toxic for their taste. But, whether united in a formal alliance or not, the real prospect is for a parliament containing its most powerful group yet of Eurosceptic, xenophobic MEPs determined to bring the whole European project down. That is a danger that Europe’s mainstream democratic parties must take seriously and prepare to confront head on.