by Yana Prokofyeva. Originally published on 2014/01/06

On 18th November representatives of several European nationalist parties – the French National Front (FN, Front National), Italian Northern League (Lega Nord), Belgian Flemish interest (VB, Vlaams Belang), Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV, Partij voor de Vrijheid), Slovak National Party (SNS, Slovenská národná strana) and Austrian Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ, Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) met in Vienna in order to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition ahead of the upcoming Elections to the European Parliament. This meeting followed the announcement made on 14th of November by Marine Le Pen – leader of FN and Geert Wilders (PVV) about their intention to form an alliance. Will this alliance last and be successful and if yes, what consequences it may have for the EU?

According to European electoral law, in order to set up a political group at least 25 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from at least 7 different EU Member States are needed. As the polls in a number of countries demonstrate, the rising popularity of extreme right parties, the shaping coalition is more than likely to have 25 MEPs. The alliance currently consists of six countries – missing only one to meet the legal requirements – but it is hard to predict who will join it: openly neo-Nazi parties like Jobbik (Hungary) and Golden Dawn (Greece) are not even considered while others, such as the Sweden Democrats (SD, Sverigedemokraterna) or the Finns Party (PS, Perussuomalaiset) have not commented on the subject yet. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has already ruled out the possibility of cooperation.

Will nationalist parties’ cooperation last?

Many experts remain sceptical about the capacity of extreme right parties to unite on a stable basis. The European Parliament has already seen quite a lot of such short-lived coalitions (like The Technical Group of the European Right, EURONAT, ITS etc.). It can be explained by several factors.

The first of them lies in the very nature of nationalist parties. They attach paramount importance to national agendas and have trouble accepting anything foreign. Their extreme focus on their countries’ interests usually does not help finding common ground with other parties either. Consequently, the divergences in their political programmes can have a dividing effect, preventing their from collaborating. Let us take, for example, the two parties that are currently pushing for the creation of a coalition: The Party for Freedom and the National Front. PVV is strongly pro-gay, while NF is against gay marriage (its leader is seen as homophobic); and whereas Geert Wilders openly expresses his support for Israel, Marine Le Pen demonstrates anti-Semitic views. According to Marine Le Pen, different opinions exist “even in marriages”, but we are yet to see how long this alliance will last.

Reasons to believe in an entente cordiale of nationalist parties

The key problem is that right-wing parties are not only united by their hatred of the EU alongside with their anti-immigrant discourse. In addition, their leaders have become less ideologically stubborn: nowadays most of them are comparatively young and pragmatic, willing to yield power and quite ready to compromise. Altogether, the situation is potentially dangerous.

All these Eurosceptic parties claim to advocate an alternative to Europe”. They want to preserve the common market, but to abolish the euro, common border regulations, the common budget and the supremacy of EU law.

Is there real danger for Europe?

At the moment the EP already has one parliamentary group consisting of the Eurosceptic nationalist parties – Europe of Freedom and Democracy, presided by Nigel Farage, leader of the UKIP. It does not have much influence (35/766 MEPs), has not done much so far and does not really try to change things (for instance, according to Vote Watch Europe, Nigel Farage participates in only about 46% of roll-call votes, which places him 746th). However, if Le Pen/Wilders’ right-wing bloc proves to be as popular as polls predict, things might change.

There are all kinds of predictions, ranging from 15% up to one third of casted votes. According to the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur, about 25% of French are planning to vote for Marine Le Pen at the European Elections. Taking into consideration that European elections are generally characterized by a low turnout rate (40% in 2009) and strong support for radical parties, (voters do not make a choice between right and left, but between pro- and anti-European), the Eurosceptic coalition actually has a great chance of success.

What is to be done?

Although we have to admit that the increasing influence of nationalist parties is to a considerable extent related to the European debt crisis and the dissatisfaction of a large number of people with how their governments are managing it, dealing with the crisis is far from being the only thing that mainstream parties can do.

First of all, politicians should talk more about Europe. For now, only opinions that are critical of the European Union are broadly highlighted in the media . Nobody explains how the EU works and what its advantages are. The extreme right parties are not even offering an “alternative” view, because there is no mainstream one. Incumbent governments are afraid to formulate clear visions where the European project is going – and if they continue like this, it will arrive at a Eurosceptic impasse.

What is more important, politicians have to stop use Brussels as their scapegoat. Most people perceive Brussels as a faceless technocracy, imposing laws on their poor, powerless governments. We all know that this is not true and that national officials are largely responsible for the decisions taken on the European level: the European Council and the Council of Ministers both consist of national representatives (heads of states and high officials respectively), and the directly elected European Parliament represent the voters. The only body that is supposed to be impartial is Commission, which only has a legislative initiative and does not adopt laws. So in order to prevent Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders from “fighting this monster called Europe”, we just have to dispel the myth about the EU being one.

Further reading:

  1. EurActiv: “Eurosceptics snub Wilders’ attempt to form European far-right party» and «Le Pen visits Wilders to broker far-right post-EU election deal»
  2. Le Monde «Les chefs européens des droites europhobes » and «Elections européennes : les partis d’extrême droite pourraient s’unir»
  3. Magali Balent “Le Monde selon Marine : la politique international du Front National, entre rupture et continuité”. Paris: A. Colin : IRIS éd., impr. 2012. – 1 vol. (122 p.)
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