During the course of 2004/2005, many small extremist parties made significant breakthroughs in regional and local elections across Europe, while other bigger electoral parties, such as Austria’s Freedom party, have experienced substantial losses.
New European alliances
With the next European Parliament elections due in 2009, anti-immigration parties are attempting to unite under one banner. The Vlaams Belang (Belgium), the Northern League (Italy), the Freedom Party (Austria), the Front National (France) and the NieuwRechts (Netherlands) met in Antwerp in December 2004 to discuss the possibility of a joint list to fight the European elections. Other, more openly extreme-Right parties are also advocating the formation of a European National Front. These parties include the Nationale Allantie (Netherlands), the Forza Nuova (Italy), the Nacionala Speka Savieniba (Latvia), the NOP (Poland), Slovenska Pospolitosk (Slovakia), Narodni Sjednoceni (Czech Republic), La Falange (Spain) and the National Democratic Party (Germany).
In a separate development, Felip Dewinter, the leader of the Belgian Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) has joined forces with Hilbrand Nawijan, a former Dutch minister of immigration and integration and member of the List Pim Fortuyn, to launch a think-tank on immigration. The Marnix van St. Aldegonde, named after a former mayor of Antwerp who fled the Netherlands to escape persecution, was launched at the former home of Pim Fortuyn to emphasise the Dutch cultural heritage in Europe.
Danish anti-immigration party strengthened
The February 2005 Danish general election has left the Danish People’s Party (DFP) in a stronger position than ever before. Since 2001, Denmark has been governed by a coalition government of the Liberal Party of Denmark (Venstre) and the Conservative People’s Party which, though officially excluding the xenophobic DFP, in fact relies on it for support. The DFP increased its share of the vote from 12 to 13.3 per cent. The elections have left the Lib-Con-DFP axis with approximately 54 per cent of the vote and ninety-six seats in the 179 seat parliament. The DFP upped its number of seats by five and now has twenty-four seats in parliament as compared to the Conservatives’ eighteen.
Gains for extremists in regional and local elections
In various elections in 2004/5, small extreme-Right parties made significant breakthroughs. In Germany, in September 2004 the neo-Nazi National Party of Germany (NPD) won 9.2 per cent of the vote in regional elections in Saxony, its best result in six years. (However, in February 2005, it did not fare nearly so well in Schleswig-Holstein where it secured just two per cent of the vote.) The NPD has forged a pact with the German People’s Union (DVU) in time for the federal elections in September. However, Germany’s electoral law is such that there will be no joint list.
There was a surprising breakthrough in Switzerland for the Party of Nationally Orientated Swiss (PNOS) which won 21 per cent of the vote in the April 2005 elections for the commune of Günsberg, northern Switzerland. The PNOS already has a councillor in the town of Langenthal, canton Bern, but this is the first time a rightwing extremist has been elected to serve on the Günsberg commune. The PNOS was founded in 2000 and is particularly active in central Switzerland and Basel. A 2004 federal government report on extremism characterises the PNOS as a xenophobic party with links to attacks on foreigners, gays and Jews. The youth section of the PNOS is believed to be cultivating links with the extreme-Right in Germany.
In the Netherlands, the new party of Geert Wilders, the Geert Wilders List, is predicted to win seats in the Dutch parliament at the next general election. In Belgium, support for the Vlaams Belang (VB) in Flanders, particularly Antwerp, is said to be growing. There are fears that the Flemish Liberal Democrats (VLD) may be tempted to form an alliance with the VB. However, Jean-Marie Dedecker, one of the VLD’s most right-wing senators has ruled out an offer from the VB to form a coalition to fight municipal elections in 2005 on the grounds that the VB must change its cultural and immigration policies and adopt a realistic economic programme.
In the UK, the British National Party (BNP) contested a greater number of seats than ever before in the May 2005 UK general election, but failed to make the political breakthrough it predicted. The party contested 119 seats and won none, and received 192,746 votes; this translates as 0.74 per cent of the national vote.
Losers on the extreme-Right
As part of Berlusconi’s House of Freedom alliance, the Alleanza Nationale (AN) and the Northern League experienced substantial losses in April regional elections across Italy, where Berlusconi’s coalition were defeated in eleven of the thirteen regions contested (holding on to power only in Veneto and Lombardy). Its most stunning defeats were in Lazio, the region around Rome, and the southern region of Puglia, both of which had been strongholds of the hard right. Overall, Berlusconi’s coalition lost seven per cent of the popular vote. The new list of the Alternativa Sociale(AS), headed by former AN member Allesandra Mussolini, and also comprising the far-Right Forza Nuova (FN) the Sociale Fiamma Tricolore and the Fronte Sociale Nazionale, also fared poorly (gaining 1.64 per cent of the national average vote) after it was accused of breaching electoral regulations in the run-up to elections for the Lazio regional council which includes Rome.
An even greater decline in electoral support has been experienced by the Austrian Freedom Party, which saw a dramatic decline in its support in southern Austria in elections in Spring 2005. Since then, the party has split with Jörg Haider, his sister Ursula Haubner (currently minister of health) and Hubert Gorbach (vice chancellor and minister for infrastructure and transport) founding a new party, the Alliance for Austria’s Future (BNÖ). In fact, all Freedom Party cabinet ministers have defected to the BNÖ which means that the Conservative-led coalition is now in alliance with the new party which is led by Hubert Gorbach until the Autumn 2006 general election (Austria takes over the EU presidency in January 2006). But the BNÖ is already mired in a corruption scandal after the accounts of the Freedom Party appeared to show that Jörg Haider used public money to hire private jets on a weekly basis, amass large bills on electioneering and run up expenses more than double that of the party’s four top officials combined.
The French Front National is also bogged down in internal problems as several prominent members, including Le Pen, are facing prosecution for hate crimes. Bruno Gollnish, a university lecturer in Japanese civilisation and international law at the Jean-Moulin University in Lyon was suspended from his post in February 2005 by the education ministry. This followed remarks made in October 2004 in which he questioned whether the Nazis had in fact used gas chambers in the Holocaust.