Anti-EU Parties Push to Combine Efforts

4 MINS READApr 30, 2013 | 11:30 GMT
Anti-EU Parties Push to Combine Efforts
Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders (R) on March 1
Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty Images

As a consequence of the European crisis, anti-establishment parties are gaining popularity across Europe. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands' right-wing Party for Freedom, reportedly aims to boost ties with like-minded Euroskeptical and anti-immigration parties across Europe ahead of the 2014 elections for the European Parliament. These parties are mainly on the fringe of European politics and are broadly opposed to deeper integration with the European Union. But beyond that issue, anti-EU parties often have very little in common with each other. The path they take will depend on the situation in their own countries, and cross-border collaboration will likely remain limited.

On April 27, the Dutch media reported that Wilders recently met with Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front party, to discuss a pan-European approach for the elections for the European Parliament in 2014. Direct elections for the EU Parliament were instituted in 1979 in the European Union's predecessor body in order to ensure democratic accountability. These elections are strongly linked with domestic politics, since candidates for the European Parliament often campaign on domestic political issues. In this regard, elections for the European Parliament often serve to measure national parties' popular support.

Wilders' party holds four of the 26 seats for Dutch representatives in the European Parliament and 10 percent of the seats in the Dutch parliament. Though the Party for Freedom lost some support in the 2012 elections, it may be primed for a resurgence; the Netherlands is a core eurozone member that has supported Berlin's call for austerity but is struggling to cut government spending domestically, and Wilders' anti-immigration rhetoric and resistance to the dictates from Brussels will likely gain popularity as the crisis deepens. Wilders has said that drastic political change is taking place throughout Europe and that he aims to expand ties with other parties that are challenging the elite to boost Euroskeptical and nationalist representation in the European Parliament.

Wilders' Party for Freedom as well as Le Pen's National Front have long been known for their hostility toward immigration, especially Muslim and Eastern European immigration, and have criticized national governments for pursuing EU integration. As the economic crisis has worsened in recent years, the parties have broadened their focus to become critics of austerity, proponents of protectionism and have advocated their respective countries' withdrawal from the eurozone. Neither party is new to politics, and while they both position themselves as alternatives to the political class in power, they routinely have significant showings in national elections. This differs somewhat from other countries, where the rise of anti-establishment parties is the direct product of the current economic crisis, and all the parties have strongly differing agendas.

In the United Kingdom, the growing popularity of the Euroskeptical U.K. Independence Party, which is also attracting voters from the far-right British National Party, combined with pressure from Euroskeptics within Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party have led the government to promise to curb immigration and renegotiate the United Kingdom's position within the European Union to protect the country's sovereignty. Greece's Golden Dawn Party is comparable to the National Front or Party for Freedom in the sense that it is nationalist and has hard-line views on immigration. However, the Greek party is more radical and has been associated with political violence, which is not the case with the Dutch or French parties.  

Other emerging anti-establishment parties have gained popularity without focusing on immigration or nationalism. In Italy, the Five Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo, is seen by voters as an alternative to the mainstream parties and has suggested Italy could abandon the euro. In Germany, which thus far has shown resilience to the crisis, journalists and academics founded a new party called Alternative for Germany in April. The party is not generally anti-European Union but advocates a structured breakup of the eurozone and has criticized the centralization of power in Brussels. While its public support appears limited at this point, the party is countering the call by Germany's larger parties for deeper European integration to overcome the crisis and could capitalize on anti-bailout sentiment in Germany's September parliamentary elections.

Though anti-establishment parties are seeing a surge in support, this does not necessarily mean they will be able to work together to become a stronger force. For example, in 2007, a far-right faction in the European Parliament called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty was created but existed for less than a year. The group collapsed after Italian European Parliament member Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the former dictator, angered Romanian members by criticizing Romanian immigrants in Italy. 

While these parties share in skepticism of the status quo in the European Union, cross-border cooperation will do little to strengthen their national positions, which is their primary goal. Each of these parties has promised to provide an alternative to the current political class and questioned deeper European integration, but beyond those issues they have little in common. The future of each party will instead be determined by the situation in each of their home countries, not any organized push to take on the European Union.

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