The French media has been abuzz in the last couple of weeks with the news that the left wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon has finally caught up with National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in the polls and for the first time has been named in some as the third placed candidate in the French Presidential elections. Both candidates are doing well, with approximately 15% of the vote apiece. However, this is not the first time that the National Front has polled well in an election. Since 2002, when Le Pen Senior made it into the second round of voting against Jacques Chirac, the French public have had to come to terms with the fact that there remains a considerable amount of support for the extreme right in their country.
France is not alone in this, however. In Holland the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), which stands on an anti-immigration, anti-Europe and particularly anti-Islam platform, is currently the third largest in the Dutch parliament and the second largest Dutch party in the European parliament. Likewise, in the UK the BNP now holds two seats in the European parliament, while the anti-Islam English Defence League, which is estimated to have at least 30,000 members, continues to attract support.
What’s more, the extreme right has been on the rise in Nordic countries in recent years. Anti-immigration, isolationist parties have gained seats in national parliaments all over Northern Europe. In Denmark, where the EDL recently held a rally, the populist Danish People’s Party is now the third largest in the Danish parliament, while the True Finns party, who aside from anti-immigration policies actively campaign against Swedish being taught in Finnish schools, have seen their share of the vote rise from 2% to almost 20% within the last ten years.
Many of these new parties, such as the Swedish Democrats, claim inspiration from established European far right parties, such as the National Front and the BNP. Their anti-immigration rhetoric could almost be the match of the EDL – in a 2005 tract on immigration the Norwegian Progress Party claimed “crime is perpetrated by those of foreign origins”.
And yet terrorist actions are certainly not reserved for jihadists. Without a doubt the worst act of terrorism occurred in Norway when London born Norwegian Anders Breivik killed 77 people during two attacks on the 22nd July 2011, the majority aged eighteen and younger. Formerly a member of the Norwegian Progress Party, his ‘manifesto’, released online on the same day as the attacks, was a call for right wing extremist action to counter what he saw as the ‘Eurarabian conspiracy’ that he believed was taking over Norway. His cited influences perhaps unsurprisingly included groups such as the English Defence League and the Tea Party, while he reserved special praise for Geert Wilders and the PVV in Holland. Despite condemnation throughout the western world over the atrocities, some extreme right parties in Norway saw an increase in numbers following the shootings.
The problem is that, even with examples like Breivik, there are more and more reasons why the general public is increasingly enticed by the prospect of the far right. Economic conditions in Europe continue to worsen – rather than the recovery initially predicted by overly optimistic governments we are faced with the very real prospect of a double dip recession. Sarkozy and Merkel’s claims that “we are stronger, together” are simply not cutting it with voters who see little evidence of this. Every crisis needs a scapegoat and the extreme right knows that, at a time when job security is tenuous at best for many, immigrants are easy to pin the blame onto. Many appear to be growing tired of the main UK parties constantly bleating on about ‘fat cat bankers’. The Far Right, on the other hand, is offering another explanation for the crisis and one that is growing more and more popular with disenchanted voters in many countries.
Ignorance and intolerance should not, however, be reason for political support. It is always easy to attack and snipe from the edges and the Far Right in Europe has long learnt the lesson that by roundly condemning the message of the government of the day, they will win votes. Populist rhetoric may draw in the voters for now but when it comes to defending real policies and convincing the public at large, the parties of the extreme right often expose themselves as the bigoted and xenophobic entities that they are.
Despite increased support for Marine Le Pen and the French National Front in the aftermath of the Toulouse shootings it is expected that, should she get into the second round of voting against Sarkozy or Hollande, her opponent would roundly defeat her. That she still stands a chance of making the second round is an altogether more worrying prospect. Unfortunately though, it looks like support for the Far Right in European politics is not likely to lessen anytime soon.