27 April at 20:30 CET on Europe by Satellite

The Far Right: a threat to European democracies?

Short overview:

In the first round of the French presidential elections, the far right scored very low. Nevertheless, the far right remains strong elsewhere. Is the rise of the extreme-right a threat for European democracies ? Coming from France, Romania, Belgium or Bulgaria, its leaders recently managed to overcome their differences to create a political group in the European parliament. In this feature, we meet far right activists, leaders and experts to try to understand how strong theses nationalists parties are, and what are the motivations of their followers.

Duration: +/- 5 minutes

Full Transcript of Commentary and interviews

European Feature: Is the Far Right a threat to European democracies?

Thursday 19 April – the last days of the campaign for the activists of the French Far Right Party. In Lille, it’s the youngest who are mobilised before the first round of the Presidential elections. But this strategy didn’t pay: on Sunday 22 April, the candidate of the Far Right (National Front), Jean-Marie Le Pen, made his worse score in the last 20 years. But in 2002, he had achieved a historic result and made it to the second round, opposed to Jacques Chirac.

Since then, some ideas of his party have been integrated in the programmes of the more classical right parties. A proof that the far right managed to impose its political agenda.

The National Front blames economic problems on immigration but also on what it calls « The Europe of Brussels”. It supports French sovereignty, requests closing the French borders, and the provision of jobs for French people.

Luc Pecherman, elected National Front city councellor in Lille

“I reject the European Union the way it is made, it doesn’t respect the people of Europe

But it’s in Brusselsthough that the National Front finally managed to make its long-awaited dream come true by forming a Far Right Political Group in the European Parliament. The Group’s name : Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty. It counts 20 members from 7 countries. But (in order to reach the quota of members), this political group could not have been created without the accession of Bulgariaand Romaniain January 2007.

Bruno Gollnisch, President of the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) Political Group in the European Parliament

« Our French, Italian, Austrian or Bulgarian civilizations are above all christian civilizations”

The nationalists of the « Greater Romania » Party have found common ground with other Far Right parties in Europe, including the French National Front. Even though in Romania, their main fight is against corruption and poverty. Their five members of the European parliament have joined Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty on 10 January this year.

For the nationalists who are forming the ITS, a nationalist group at European level is not a paradox . The far right members of the European Parliament claim that they agree on many issues, such as for example the “NO” to Turkish accession.

Philippe Claeys, Vlaams Belang (Belgian Flemish Far Right party)

« We must try to overcome the differences and work together on actual political issues: the possible accession of Turkeyor other non European countries to the EU, the European Constitution, the fight against illegal immigration.”

But taking a closer look at the political programmes of the respective ITS members, there seems to be room for potential conflicts of interest. For example, the Flemish Vlaams Belang claims that a part of the North of France has a vocation to integrate Greater Flanders

Abramovitz, Expert on Far Right

“The Vlaams Belang is a party which advocates a reduction of the French national territory, and this is in blatant contradiction with the theses of Jean-Marie Le Pen. This example clearly shows the nature of this group, and the opportunist nature of its constitution.”

But it obvious that everywhere in Europe, the far right is gaining strength, thanks partly to an electorate which seems disoriented in this modern world, as Sarah De Lange explains :

Sarah de Lange , expert on Far Right at Antwerp University, Belgium

« Europe is changing economically, Europe is changing in terms of population, people feel insecure, threatened by the big general developments, by globalization, by immigration flows and that makes people in search of a party willing to ease their feeling of discomfort»

The far right has learned to play by democratic rules.

Street dialogue (natural sound)
: « Votez pour Jean Marie Le Pen le 22, bonne journée » « Merci, à vous aussi » ENGLISH: (Vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen on the 22nd, have a nice day – thanks, for you too)

For example, it managed to integrate the life of institutions such as the European Parliament. But the ideas it advocates remain incompatible with democratic values, and continue to upset many uropeans.

(atmosphere – street discussion)

FRENCH : « Quoi ? Mais t’es sérieux là ? Eh il est pour Le Pen ! T’es trop grave ! Ca se fait pas, Le Pen c’est un raciste » « Chacun son opinion, pour moi c’est pas un raciste, pourquoi c’est un raciste ? » « Ben, parce que il veut que tous les gens retournent dans leur pays »

ENGLISH : « What, are you serious ? He is for Le Pen! You are crazy. Le Pen is a racist” “Everyone can have his own opinion, for me he’s not a racist, why would he be a racist?” “Because he wants all foreigners to go back to their home country”.

The reaction of these young women summarizes what millions of French voters were obviously thinking when they blocked the National Front last 22 April. The results of the French Presidential elections seem to show that there is a limit to the progression of the Far Right.