Going back to the question of whether the European Parliament elections made Europe more “right-wing,” there are two new data points. The first is Benjamin Weinthal’s article in the Jerusalem Post today following his interview with Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders.
When asked about commentaries in the German media labeling the Freedom Party as “extreme right” – a term typically reserved for neo-Nazi parties in Germany – Wilders said that is “totally ridiculous” and an “insult to the the Dutch people” because the party is now the “biggest party in Holland” according to polls.
The Freedom Party should be viewed within a liberal Dutch tradition, he said, noting that “we are not for cutting social welfare and are for more health care” and because of our “friendship for Israel, the extreme right demonstrates against us.”
Wilders is an Islamophobe who supports ethnic cleansing in Europe and in Israel/Palestine. But as we can see, the understanding of what is meant by “right-wing” is considerably more complicated in Europe than in the US (where it’s getting pretty complicated lately, too).
The second point comes from the interesting NY Times op-ed a couple of days ago by German EU Parliamentarian Alexander Lambsdorff.
There has always been a presence of extremism in the European Parliament, just as in many national parliaments across Europe.
In this election, however, the success of Geert Wilders’ populists in the Netherlands was touted as a sea change in European politics. It was not. He gained 4 out of 25 Dutch seats, while Jean-Marie Le Pen’s share of the vote in France was halved to 10 percent. Le Pen lost the four seats to be taken by Wilders and they both, together with the other extremists, will remain as marginal to the political process in Brussels as they have been in the past.
The four main parties governing the European Parliament are still decidedly pro-democracy and pro-European. Extremist groups may be receiving much media attention, but their influence in Parliament remains nonexistent.
Lambsdorff argues in essence that the rise of the extreme right in Scandinavia (the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark, as far as I know, now all have strong anti-Muslim parties) has been balanced by the decline of the extreme right in France. There are several interesting things to think about here. Maybe France, which had a much stronger nationalist right from the late 40s through the 80s than northern Europe, is simply on a different political cycle than Scandinavia. Or maybe France is ahead of Northern Europe in its approach to the Muslim immigrant question, because it deals with the issue as part of the legacy of its colonial empire in North Africa, rather than as an unintended result of the guest-worker programs of the ’60s and ’70s or of political asylum programs in the ’80s and ’90s. In any case, it’s another reminder to stop painting “Europe and Islam” with such an unsophisticated broad brush.
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