The European Union’s parliamentary election, which will see up to 380 million voters in 28 countries choose 751 deputies to represent them in the European Parliament, kicked off yesterday with voting in Britain and the Netherlands. The rest of the countries will vote from today until Sunday, when the trend towards political extremes in France, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Austria may become clearer.
Far-right groups and anti-EU parties are poised to make gains in the election, especially in the Netherlands, Greece, France and Hungary, according to opinion surveys. Even in Britain, the UK Independence Party, which wants to withdraw from the EU and impose tighter immigration controls, is expected to win the vote, pushing the ruling Conservatives into third place behind Labour Party.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam and anti-EU Freedom Party — which plans to forge an alliance with France’s far-right National Front — is expected to win with up to 23 percent of the vote. Some opinion polls predict the party could become the largest Dutch faction in Brussels. Wilders was recently at the centre of a storm of criticism after telling supporters that he would ensure that the Netherlands would have “fewer Moroccans”. This week he put his country in hot water after distributing stickers of the Saudi flag, with the text of the Islamic testimony replaced with anti-Islam slurs.
France’s National Front (FN), led by Marine Le Pen, has come out with a slogan, ‘Yes to France, No to Brussels’, in its campaign. The latest survey predicts that almost one of four French — 23 percent — say they will vote for the FN, against 21 percent planning to support the centre-right UMP and 19 percent backing France’s ruling Socialist Party. The far-right outfit had garnered just six percent of vote in the 2009 EU election.
In Greece, the ultra-right wing Golden Dawn party shocked many observers last week when it won 16 percent of the vote in the mayoral race in capital Athens, and 11 percent of the vote for regional prefects. Golden Dawn has increased its support since winning seven percent of the popular vote in a general election two years ago, which enabled it to win seats in parliament for the first time. Opinion polls show the party is set to win 7-11 percent of the European vote.
Hungary’s centre-right Fidesz party enjoyed a landslide victory in a parliamentary vote last month. But the country’s far-right nationalist Jobbik party also performed well, garnering more than 20 percent of the vote. Opinion polls suggest that Jobbik will reach the second place, possibly winning five of 21 seats allocated to Hungary. The rise of far-right parties is a threat to Europe’s diverse culture. Unless mainstream parties find ways to solve voters’ anxieties over culture and identity, the situation will become worse.