Above–an image from Wilders’ Best Friends Forever, which makes posters displaying reactionary and/or racist quotations from people allied with the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders. Wilders, the far-right in Holland, and the far-right across Europe are the focus of a feature article by Marjolein van der Veen in the current issue of Dollars & Sense. Below is a report by van der Veen on the recent European Parliament elections. –Chris Sturr
By Monday, May 26, the results of the elections for the European Parliament were in. Most of the mainstream news focused on the “shock” of the gains the far-right had made, particularly in France and the U.K. But among the other populous powerhouses of Europe, Germany and Italy, the center and center-left were victorious. In general, the northern countries appeared to vote centrist and/or shift to the right, whereas the southern countries where the economic crisis hit the hardest—Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Ireland—is where the left had its greatest gains.
But most shocking was indeed France, where the Front National got a whopping 25% of the vote (going from three to 24 seats), and the U.K. where UKIP got 27.5% of the vote (going from thirteen to 23 seats). In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party got nearly 27% of the vote and doubled its number of MEPs (from two to four). The far-right also made advances in Austria, where the FPO got about 20% of the vote and doubled in size (from two to four seats), and in Greece, where the Golden Dawn got 9.3% of the vote and gained three seats. In Germany, the AfD got 7% of the vote and seven seats, and a Nazi-like party (the NPD) got one seat.
However, the good news is that the elections were not all rosy for the far-right parties, and not all of them made advances. In Hungary, the Jobbik party failed to grow, although it got enough votes to keep its three seats. In the Netherlands, support for Wilders’ PVV party slipped, and with 13.2% (down from 17%) it lost one seat. Support for the Finns party also fell from 19% to 13%, though enough for them to retain two seats. Belgium’s Vlaams Belang fell from 10% to 4% losing it one seat, and Italy’s Lega Nord support fell from 10% to 6% with a loss of four seats. In Slovakia, the SNS failed to win any seats, and in the U.K. the BNP lost its one seat. It remains to be seen whether Marine Le Pen and Wilders will have enough countries to form their far-right caucus group.
The other good news was the victories on the left. Greece’s Syriza party came in first with 26.6% of the vote (going from one to six seats). In Portugal, the Socialist Party got 31.5% of the vote and eight seats. In Spain, the Podemos party got nearly 8% of the vote and five seats, while the Socialist Party (PSOE/PSC) got 23% of the vote and fourteen seats. In Italy, the pro-European Renzi’s center-left party got 40% of the vote and 31 seats, overtaking Beppo Grillo’s Five Star Movement, that ended up with 21% of the vote and 17 seats. In Ireland, the Sinn Fein got 17% of the vote and three seats. In Germany, Die Linke got 7.4% of the vote and seven seats.
In the aftermath of the elections, many on the left will continue to question how best to stop the rise of the far-right, which made its gains using anti-immigrant and anti-Europe politics. Does the left need to counter this with a strong populism from the left? Should the left focus on issues of class and corporate power and continue its fight against austerity? Or should it focus on a strong campaign against racism and xenophobia? Or both? And what can be done to combat political apathy? After all, the election results were not exactly a reflection of the political leanings of European voters, given the low voter turnout (only 43% on average), but particularly low in the Eastern European countries, with Slovakia as low as 13%. Perhaps the “shock” of the gains of the far-right will wake up those who did not vote and increase their engagement in politics. But in places where the governing parties that had supported austerity experienced a drubbing and the center did not hold, it may also serve as a wake-up call to policy-makers that an end to austerity is long overdue.
Sources: Jessica Elgot, European Elections: 9 Scariest Far-Right Parties Now in the European Parliament, Huffington Post, May 26, 2014; European Elections: six parties that went left, not right, Guardian, May 26, 2014; Results of the 2014 Elections, European Parliament, (accessed May 28, 2014); Election Results from across Europe, Guardian, May 25, 2014; European Elections 2014: German Party Dubbed ‘Neo-Nazis’ Among Far Right Projected to Win Seats, Huffington Post, May 25, 2014; Seamus Milne, The Rise of Europe’s Far Right will only be Halted by a Populism of the Left, Guardian, May 14, 2014.