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Europe Lurches to Right as Voters Protest Against EU

  • Henry Ridgwell

Far-right, anti-EU parties have made strong gains following European elections over the weekend. The European Parliament in Brussels will now include hundreds of lawmakers whose aim is to break up the Union. Analysts say the results are partially a reaction against the austerity measures imposed in the wake of the European debt crisis.

France’s far-right National Front party attracted one in four votes Sunday at the European polls. Party leader Marine Le Pen said the French people "no longer want to be ruled from the outside."

She said the party’s objective is to block all damaging European resolutions and to defend the interests of France and the French people.

Supporters claim the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric of the National Front’s early years has moderated. There was shock, though, among immigrant communities in Paris.

Sensitive issues

Mohad Said Elouach, who came to France five years ago, said, “The far right is a danger. The far right does not change; they remain the far right.”

Parties like the National Front combine fears over immigration with concerns over the economy, said Andrea Mammone, an expert on far-right politics in Europe at Royal Holloway University in London.

“The economic situation is part of this problem because [of] a reduction of the job market, so more people are competing for this; reduction of welfare, so finding people responsible for this, so immigrants, competitors.”

The result will be felt beyond France, according to analyst Janis Emmanouilidis of the European Policy Center. “Having a weak France is not good news if you want to do EU policy making,” she said.

In Britain, the anti-EU UK Independence Party topped the vote, and now holds a third of Britain’s 73 seats in the European Parliament. Party leader Nigel Farage vowed to repeat the success in national elections - and force a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

“Many of you think you've seen the high water mark of UKIP. You ain't seen nothing yet!” said Farage.

Anti-EU

In Greece - where EU-imposed austerity measures have been felt hardest - the left-wing anti-EU party Syriza topped the poll. There has been a rejection of mainstream political parties in many European countries, said Andrea Mammone of Royal Holloway University.

“People have started complaining, saying ‘Why? What is the point of a German politician telling us to do this and that? Where is the democratic legitimacy of all this?'” asked Mammone.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats topped the poll. She called the rise of anti-EU parties across Europe "remarkable and regrettable."

Merkel said it is up to politicians to win back voters in Germany, and also in France. The best way, she said, is to focus on improving competitiveness, on growth and creating jobs.

Italians also bucked the trend, giving an emphatic win to the center-left, pro-EU Democratic Party of President Matteo Renzi. Italy takes over the rotating EU presidency in July - and Renzi has pledged to focus on jobs and growth in place of austerity.
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