HOPE not hate European Editor Graeme Atkinson gives his take on the EU elections
Across the European Union (EU) at the weekend, voters vented their spleen, expressing real and imagined grievances against austerity, immigration, unemployment, the EU in whole or part, the Euro currency, the ubiquity of corruption and their own widespread feelings of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, disenfranchisement, disenchantment and alienation. Some voted left but not in the numbers who cast their votes for the non-mainstream right.
The main focal point of media attention after the ballot, apart from UKIP’s spectacular result in the United Kingdom, has inevitably been on France where the Front National (FN), led by Marine Le Pen, scored an expectedly large win, polling almost 26%, winning the votes of 4,711,339 voters and administering a sharp slap in the face to France’s mainstream and mostly venal political leaders. The FN will now have as many as 24 MEPs in the new 751-seat European Parliament (EP).
In other countries, too – Denmark and Austria – “respectable”, parliamentarist far rightist and anti-immigrant populists scored well but, again, hardly unpredictably. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party (DF), which will now be courted assiduously by Le Pen and her ilk in a bid to secure the “Golden Fleece” of forming a recognised group and grabbing even more cash in Brussels, bumped up its share of the popular vote up by over 11% to 26.6%, doubling its seats in the European Parliament (EP) from two to four.
In Austria, the far right will be crowing. The now-populist but still extremist Freedom Party (FPÖ_ took 19.7%, compared with 12.7% in 2009 and, like the DF, will increase its tally of seats from two to four while the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic Sweden Democrats managed to slither into the EP to take two seats.
Even the hardcore violent nazi right could find some cheer: the possibly-soon-about-to-be-illegal Golden Dawn in Greece grabbing between 9 and 10% of the vote and looking set to send three of its travelling circus of meatheads to Strasbourg.
They will be joined by a solitary member of the German nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) which got just 1% but only gets a European Parliament seat thanks to a barmy change in electoral law by Germany’s Constitutional Court. Three fascists from Jobbik, whose vote faltered in Hungary, will join this quartet
While in reflecting the general mood of anxiety – much of it politician-fostered – in the EU about the host of issues mentioned above and understandable concerns about the integrity of a huge swathe of the political class – there were also some notable successes for Eurosceptic outfits like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Finns Party, it was not exactly all “uncork the champagne” for the assorted extremists and populists.
Another nail, for example, was rammed into the coffin of the once-formidable Vlaams Belang (VB) which, lost more than half its support, falling from 9.8% to 4.62%. Across the border in the Netherlands, the anti-Muslim populist Geert Wilders had the arrogant smile wiped off his face, his Freedom Party (PVV) coming in third, having been expected to win the day.
In Italy, the Lega Nord, which has also lined up with Mme Le Pen, got 6% – a steep drop from the 10.21% it got five years ago – and lost four of its nine seats.
In other countries, there were no dramatic results for the far right but final results – and with them the total of seats and votes won by the far right and populists – are yet to be confirmed in a majority of EU states.
Some observations must be made.
The far right will have 59 seats, 83 if UKIP, is included so the anti-racist and anti-fascist movements have nothing to cheer about and must now redouble their efforts. At the same the seemingly endless and vacuous talk of the supposedly relentless “Rise of right-wing extremism in Europe…”etc. needs coldscrutiny.
Looking at the raw arithmetic of the election results, for example, the following emerge:
Firstly, if we subtract the votes for UKIP (GB) and VOX (Spain) – which maybe should not be there among the extremists – from the 16,835,421 total vote of the far right, we arrive at an amended total of 12,240,279.
Secondly, if we subtract the 3,619,357 votes difference between the Front National vote in 2014 and 2009 from this amended total of 12,240,279, we arrive at a further amended total of 8,620,922.
This is a smaller total than the 10,667,818 votes that the far right polled in 2009. In fact, it indicates that the general far right vote actually fell by 2,046,896 votes in 2014 compared with 2009.
So just where is this generalised, much talked-about, media-hyped “rise of fascism”, “rise of right-wing extremism” etc (except in France)? Because, even with the huge increase in FN support, the overall far right vote in the EU grew only by 1.57 million over the 2009 score with an additional country – Croatia – in the mix. Indeed, apart from in the UK (if we include UKIP), Denmark, Hungary and France, the far right lost votes everywhere and only won 34 seats.
The fight against fascism and populism and the hate prejudices that nourish them has to be stepped up even more strongly and energetically and also more smartly and on a much broader basis.
Exaggeration and wild statements suggesting that the roof is falling in only frighten people, paralyse resistance and deter engagement. They help nothing and we should stop using such overblown phraseology.