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  • Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, attended a major rally of European nationalist and far-right parties ahead of EU parliamentary elections.

    Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, attended a major rally of European nationalist and far-right parties ahead of EU parliamentary elections. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 May 2019 (2 hours 30 minutes ago)

These elections will mark a precedent in the bloc’s history as far-right, nationalist and Eurosceptic parties have appeared as new and powerful political actors, but who are they and do they really represent a “threat” for the EU?

The next election of the European Parliament will be held from May 23 to 26, marking the ninth parliamentary vote since the first direct elections in 1979. A total of 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be chosen to represent a population of more than 512 million people from the EU’s 28 member states.

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These elections will mark a precedent in the bloc’s history, as far-right, nationalist and Eurosceptic parties have appeared as new and powerful political actors, but who are they and do they really represent a “threat” for the EU?

On May 18, Nationalist parties from across Europe held a rally led by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, promising to reshape the continent following next week’s EU parliamentary election. 

While the beleaguered Austrian Freedom Party had to skip the event — due to its leader quitting after corruption scandals — parties from 11 countries did show up, including France’s National Rally (RN), Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). Salvini announced the creation of the European Alliance for People and Nations (EAPN), where all like-minded parties would converge. 

“This is a historic moment,” said RN leader Marine Le Pen, and, in a sense, she was right as Europe had not seen this large support or openness to the far-right, in some cases borderline fascist parties, since the beginning of the 20 century. 

“The signs of the ‘30s are resurfacing,” United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, a Senegalese lawyer, has warned, adding that “unless we are blind or of bad faith, we should admit that it’s time to stand up,” referring to the advance of a new class of nationalist, far-right leaders in Europe is reminiscent of the 1930s when Nazis rose to power.

So who are the main parties that lead this rise of right-wing nationalism?

Italian Northern League leader Matteo Salvini speaks during a political rally in Milan, Italy February 24, 2018. Photo: Reuters 

Italy

The strongest far-right party is the Italian Lega (League), led by Deputy Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Salvini. The League's popularity in Italy is largely based on an anti-migration discourse and nationalist populism, as well as anti-Muslim rhetoric such as when Salvini said Europe will become an “Islamic caliphate” unless nationalist parties make gains in next elections.

In the 2018 Italian General elections, the party won 37 percent of the votes, emerging with a relative majority of votes in the parliament.

On Saturday's rally, Salvini told the crowds that “there are no extremists, racists or fascists in this square,” as a bid to distance themselves from neo-nazi ties. However, its past open use of symbols, vocabulary and ideas of Benito Mussolini-era fascism raise questions on the validity of his latest remarks. At the same time, Salvini's government has shown its indifference to human rights as it has implemented various measures to stop the migrants from disembarking. 

A poll on voting intentions in Italy has given Salvini’s League about 32 percent of the vote

Marine Le Pen, leader of French National Rally party gestures as she addresses a major rally of European nationalist and far-right parties ahead of EU parliamentary elections in Milan, Italy May 18, 2019. Photo: Reuters

France

The National Rassemblement (RN), formerly the National Front party of far-right leader Marine Le Pen leads voter intention with 22 percent for the upcoming European Parliament elections, just ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic in March (REM) party, according to an Ipsos poll.

Like their Italian counterparts, the RN blames all the current national and bloc problems on migration, mainly coming from Muslim-majority nations. Before the Paris attacks of Nov. 13, 2015, Marine Le Pen made a link between immigration and militant Islamism. As a eurosceptic, the French leader pushes for a nationalist discourse, “French First,” that has reverberated with the far-right. 

In a rally called on by Vox, thousands gathered some with the dictatorship-era Spanish flag. Photo: EFE

Spain

With the April 28 general elections in Spain over, the far-right party Vox gained about 10 percent of parliamentary seats, marking the far-right’s rising comeback into politics four decades after Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. 

The party appealed to voters in one of Spain's most contested elections since its return to democracy, mostly basing its arguments against leftists politics, social liberals, migrants, charged mainly with an Islamophobic narrative. Emphasizing the return of a long lost Spain and pushing to fight what they refer to as an “Islamist invasion,” which is the “enemy of Europe.” One could summarize it as an Iberian version of “Make Spain Great Again.”

Germany

Formed just six years ago, in 2017 the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the federal parliament for the first time with 12.6 percent of the vote, becoming Germany's biggest opposition party.

The far-right party has tapped into neo-nazism believed to have been forgotten in Germany. With a racist, anti-migration, anti-Muslim and anti-European discourse, the party rallies sectarian and fascists supporters. The AfD has proposed to ban mosques and headscarves, blaming Muslim migrants as the scapegoat to Germany's issues. Various voter intention polls expect the AfD to obtain around 11 percent of the votes.

Netherlands

Founded in 2006, the Party for Freedom (PVV) is Geert Wilders' creation. It came third in the 2014 European Parliament election, winning four out of 26 seats. The party calls for a strong assimilationist stance, proposing the banning of the Quran and closing mosques in the country.

In 2008, he wrote the short film Fitna which attempts to demonstrate that the Quran motivates its followers towards terrorist acts. While Wilders was found guilty of incitement and encouraging discrimination against Moroccans, he faced no punishment.

In 2010, a sizeable delegation arrived in Israel consisting of some 30 leaders of the European Alliance for Freedom, gathering leaders such as Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, Philip Dewinter from Belgium and Jorg Haider's successor, Heinz-Christian Strache, from Austria, as part of Israel’s public support of European far-right parties.

A poll on voting intentions has given Wilders’ PVV about 10 percent of the vote, which would mean similar results as in 2014.

Far-right in other European nations

In Denmark, the Danish People's Party, which is the second largest party in parliament, imposes the toughest anti-migrant rules in the bloc. Viktor Orban’s Fidesz rules Hungary since 2018 with similar stance. The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was the largest party in this year's general election. Estonia's far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has more than doubled their share of the vote to nearly 18 percent since 2014.

In Finland, the far-right Finns Party were narrowly beaten by 0.2 percent into second place in the April 2019 general election, by the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP). Their neighbors the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) made significant gains in the 2018 general election, winning about 19 percent of the vote.

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While Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) became the only far-right party in power in Western Europe, it is now under fire over serious corruption scandals. All remaining ministers are to resign, a party spokesman said Monday, after one of their members, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, was fired in the fallout from a corruption scandal that has brought down the government. 

Greece’s neo-nazi Golden Dawn party is still the third largest in the Hellenic Parliament and will likely obtain around eight percent of the votes in the EU elections. 

Steve Bannon, the former adviser to Donald Trump, claimed that an "earthquake" will take place in this week's elections, with the emergence of a large far-right bloc in the European Parliament, yet this seems more like a fascist dream than a reality.

According to Europe Elects, the far-right European Alliance for People and Nations (EAPN) can be projected to receive somewhere between 84 seats. Such a scenario would place them as the fourth largest group in the new Parliament, and potentially place them in competition with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe for third place.

While a less alarmist reading would say that the far-right was always there, hidden in the conservative and right-wing parties, the fact that they are out in the open should be a warning for the bloc, but once again only parliamentary elections will tell.

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