Last month, many watched in horror as anti-Semitic, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-European Union political parties won large shares of the votes in European Parliamentary elections across the continent.
Today, the far right politicians are directing more vitriol at each other than at the dreaded Brussels bureaucrats they were elected to get rid of. While many European far right parties share overlapping hatreds, they haven't necessarily been on the same page when it comes to policy.
“Looking at the far right in the 28 member states in the European Union, it’s a mixed bag,” Michael Geary, a Wilson Center fellow and EU expert at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, told VICE News. “Each of these parties — whether they are in Poland, France, Britain, or Greece — they usually address every policy approach from a national perspective. They make for very awkward bedfellows.”
On Tuesday, the leader of the French neo-fascist National Front, Marine Le Pen, and her Dutch ally Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party admitted defeat in their bid to assemble at least 25 lawmakers from seven EU countries into an official caucus in the European Parliament. Under the parliament’s rules, recognized caucuses receive more staff, more speaking time, committee chairmanships, and other privileges — the kind of soapbox the far right wants, in other words.
The failure was a letdown from Le Pen’s euphoria after the May elections, when the National Front won 25 percent of the French vote and became the country’s biggest political party in the European Parliament.
She and Wilders failed, in part, because they couldn’t convince Nigel Farage to join them. The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Farage shares Le Pen and Wilders’ goals of radically shrinking the EU or even pulling their countries out of the union altogether. But Farage doesn’t want to be associated with Le Pen’s perceived anti-Semitism or Wilders’ calls to ban the Koran as if it were Mein Kampf.
“Attaching himself to Marine Le Pen’s coattails would be very damaging for him."
“He’s a very smart political operative,” said Geary, referring to Farage. “Attaching himself to Marine Le Pen’s coattails would be very damaging for him. There are national elections in Britain next year. Farage needs to win seats in the House of Commons in order to legitimize the rise of the party and gain further inroads into the political system.”
Farage managed to assemble a caucus in the European Parliament that received almost $20 million for staff and other perks.
But Geary noted that Farage needed Italy’s Five Star Movement in order to fulfill the minimum requirements to become a voting bloc. A pseudo-anarchic/environmentalist party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, the Five Star Movement is hardly far right. It wants to keep Italy in the EU and would expand Brussels’ power with an EU financial transaction tax that would hammer London traders.
Len Pen viewed Farage's alliance with Grillo with disdain. “We wanted a solid and lasting alliance, not media stunts,” she said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Gear said far right political parties in Eastern Europe couldn’t be expected to join up with Western Europeans — like Farage and Le Pen — who want to curb immigration from their countries. (Recall the demonization of Polish plumbers in France a few years ago.)
After Le Pen admitted her failure to form a bloc, National Front spokesman Ludovic de Danne tweeted a hopeful message that said, “despite the betrayals and media agitation, we will build with our allies a solid and coherent political group later."
Maybe de Danne should have sent his followers a translation of a famous phrase attributed to Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives: ”All politics is local.”
Image via Flickr.