Jose Barroso, the president of the European Commission, warned this week of the rise of extremist political parties in Europe. When tough economic times persist, according to Barroso, people tend to flock to more extremist ideologies. While this is fine in small numbers, it can mean trouble for the current groups in power when support for parties on the wings grows too strong. The issue is especially pertinent for Barroso with elections for the European Parliament scheduled for next May.
Barroso warned of sentiments such as nationalism, xenophobia, and racism, all of which he feels go hand-in-hand with extremist parties, especially those on the right-wing. He even went so far as to warn of a reactionary party that arose on the basis of some of those principles in Germany after the country’s economy was kept down in the wake of World War I. However, it is not so clear that the pan-European philosophy of Barroso and others currently in power in the European Union holds the ideological high ground.
Many of the so-called “extremist” parties to which Barroso was hinting have actually come to power by calling on basic reforms to help curb unemployment and government spending, two of the most out-of-control problems in today’s European governments. The very reason that the parties are appealing — and at the same time the very reason why some of their more suspect stances are not punished by voters — is because the current governing bodies have made so little progress toward helping the average European. Only now, several years after the financial crisis, are things beginning to look up for the eurozone’s core countries, and even that could change if market interest rates rise in the near future.
One of the strongest political parties often labeled as “extremist” is the National Front in France. Led by Marine Le Pen, who took over from her father two years ago, the party has solidified its role as the third party in the country. Not only that, but some polls even show the party as the front-runner in the elections for the European Parliament seats next year.
Advocating at times the re-introduction of customs borders and a departure from the euro, the party’s ideology runs contrary to the pan-European philosophy that has brought international organizations in the eurozone so much power.
A different part that has been a bugbear to many in the European Parliament is the UK Independence Party, which currently holds 9 out of the country’s 73 seats in the body. Strongly against involving the United Kingdom further in the affairs of the continent, the party is expected to make ground in next year’s elections. However, the party has yet to win a seat in the House of Commons.
Attention was focused on the Golden Dawn party in Greece after the killing of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas, which many tied to the activities of the group. After a judge handed down severe punishments to many in the group, including classifying it as a criminal organization, it is doubtful whether the party will be able to repeat its success in the past two Greek elections in which it held approximately twenty seats in the Hellenic Parliament and garnered around 7 percent of the popular vote. Though the party has worked to provide relief to poor Greeks in large cities such as Athens, it is also known for its anti-immigrant youth rallies, which have had a tendency to turn violent.
A final party to keep an eye on is the Alternative for Germany party, known as AfD in its native tongue, which generated a lot of buzz before the country’s elections this September. Although the party missed the 5 percent benchmark that it needed to obtain representation in the Bundestag by the slimmest of margins, supporters of the party have said that they are not fazed by the result, and that they will continue to campaign wherever possible. This could include the European Parliament, where some expect the party to gain ground. As leaving the euro is the party’s main platform, that would not be good news for supporters of pan-European views.