News / Europe

Far Right Poised to Take Advantage of Eurozone Crisis

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks during a news conference at The National Press Club in Washington, Nov. 2,  2011.
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks during a news conference at The National Press Club in Washington, Nov. 2, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

The eurozone crisis is feeding far-right, nationalist parties in Europe which have long criticized the single European currency - and the broader idea of a "European project" of closer economic and political unity. But will that translate into more votes?

Far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has long been calling for France to get out of the euro currency union.

And as the eurozone crisis grows and the French economy shrinks, Le Pen's message at rallies of her National Front party appears to be gaining new resonance among mainstream voters. A pair of recent surveys finds nearly one in five supports her. Many of those polled expressed concern about the eurozone turmoil.

Less than six months from French presidential elections, Le Pen's anti-European Union message is also getting plenty of media attention - like during this interview a few days ago on French public television.

Le Pen says she believes the euro's demise is inevitable. France should get out of the eurozone now to escape the consequences.

Thomas Klau heads the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"The eurozone crisis and the fact that eurozone governments have not been so far able to bring it under control gives Marine Le Pen a fantastic opportunity to attack the disfunctionality of the eurozone's existing leadership, but also as she would say the disfunctionality of the eurozone  - and the EU as a whole," said Klau.

The National Front is not the only far-right movement gaining currency in Europe. Nationalist groups are expanding from traditional strongholds like France and Italy to capture new territory in the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland. In Greece, the extreme-right Laos party has joined the new coalition government - a first in nearly 40 years.

A new survey of the far right's Internet supporters finds many identify with these parties' anti-immigration, anti-Muslim agendas. But Jonathan Birdwell, one of the authors of the report by London think-tank Demos, says their anti-EU stance is another plus.

"The groups we surveyed overwhelmingly identified the EU with a waste of money and a loss of control over external borders, which led to high immigration, which led to more crime, which led to poorer economic conditions - or at least more competition within these depressed economies," said Birdwell.

But analyst Klau says that so far, there is not enough evidence to directly link the eurozone crisis with rising support for the far right.

"What of course could easily happen is that if the eurozone slides into a new recession - and there are indications that it is on the verge of doing so or has already done so - and unemployment figures increase even more, than that could easily create political fuel for anti-European, populist political parties in many and possibly all member states," he said.

Polls put Le Pen third in the French presidential race  - behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has not officially declared his re-election bid.

A lawyer by training, the 43-year-old politician has softened the National Front's bellicose image. Analysts like Birdwell do not rule out Le Pen making it to a second-round runoff vote - like her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did in 2002.

"I think that is very much a possibility - that you could see that kind of runoff in the French elections," he said. "And I think as well that the eurozone crisis and France's role in the European Union, the euro currency, will be a huge issue in the French elections."

But Birdwell believes most French voters ultimately support the euro currency, and the larger EU goals that it reflects. Still, the far right may keep gaining ground in France and in Europe so long as the crisis continues.

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