In its latest review of the successes and losses of far-Right and anti-immigrant electoral parties in Europe, the Institute of Race Relations notes that extreme-Right immigration and law and order policies are being incorporated into the agenda of mainstream centre-Right parties; extreme-Right electoral parties are appealing increasingly to rural constituencies; and new political parties are emerging, whose policies are shaped almost entirely by an anti-immigration agenda.
In the last six months, an extreme-Right political party has, once again, become part of the coalition government of Austria. After months of wrangling, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) was invited to become a junior partner in the centre-Right coalition government, despite the fact that it was the FPÖ which sparked last summer’s governmental crisis and forced new elections.
In Italy, the anti-immigrant Northern League (a junior partner in the coalition government led by Silvio Berlusconi) is threatening to bring down the government if its virulent anti-immigration agenda is not strictly adhered to. But local elections in May 2003, covering 25 per cent of the Italian electorate, saw losses for the League, as well as for the post-fascist National Front (AN), led by Gianfranco Fini.
Following the May 2003 Belgian general election, the Vlaams Blok (VB) is now the fifth largest party in Belgium with 11.6 per cent of the national vote (17.9 per cent of the vote in Flanders) and 18 seats (up 3) in the Federal Chamber of Representatives. This is the most significant gain for the European far-Right since Jean-Marie Le Pen captured 18 per cent of the vote in the 2002 French presidential elections. The VB made significant gains in rural areas, where there are few immigrants and low crime rates. Although the VB lost some support in Antwerp, it is now the main party with 7 seats out of a total of 24. The Francophone National Front (FN) also gained in the elections. It achieved 1.98 per cent of the national vote (5.6 per cent of the vote in Wallonia), which translates into one seat in the Federal Chamber and one in the senate.
In the UK, the extreme-Right British National Party had its biggest breakthrough in the May local elections, and now holds sixteen council seats. It is now the joint second largest party on Burnley Council in the north-west of England.
Incorporating extreme-Right views
Even in countries where pollsters predict that the extreme-Right political parties’ share of the vote is on the wane, the extreme-Right’s anti-immigration and law and order programmes are being incorporated into centre-Right policies. Thus, in the Netherlands, where the Pim Fortuyn List is probably a spent force after corruption scandals and internal bickering, the Fortuyn agenda lives on in government, particularly integration, immigration and crime policies.
In France, where Chirac, in 2002, resoundingly saw off the challenge posed by Le Pen in the second round of the presidential elections, extremism has not been defeated. On the contrary, the interior ministry has launched a drive to win back FN voters to the mainstream Right, by promoting hardline policing and expelling undocumented workers. In this climate, newspapers are drawing attention to the continuing appeal of Le Pen, and the popularisation of his ideas about immigration and law and order in provincial France, as well as in its industrial wastelands.
New anti-immigration parties formed
In Spain, where the anti-immigration Platform for Catalonia made unexpected gains in May’s nation-wide regional and municipal elections, the Francoist-leaning Frente Español says that it will, in future, contest elections. And in Ireland, the anti-abortion campaigner, Justin Barrett, has vowed to establish a ‘new oppositional movement against immigration’.