PARIS - The French chose a change in government on May 6, in an orderly and indisputable way. In Greece, elections on the same day were less clear-cut; and four days later, the country is still without a government. Yes, the two elections were very different, but the differences should not mask similar undercurrents: the rise of fringe parties challenging mainstream politics. It is a trend that has been gaining steam throughout Europe.
In France, 18% of the voters took a stand against European unity and immigration in the first round of the presidential election by voting for Marine Le Pen. Two weeks later, in Greece, 7% of the voters opted for Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that now has 21 seats in the Parliament. The party most notably wants to put land mines along the Turkish border to stop immigration.
In Italy, the anti-political movement five stars (Movimento 5 stelle), led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, had some success in local elections by campaigning against austerity and corruption. In Germany, the Pirate Party, which fights for free Internet downloads, has burst into politics and is worrying the leading parties on the eve of a major election set for May 13.
These movements have nothing in common. One would be hard pressed, for example, to link the Spanish Indignados movement, born one year ago in Madrid, to xenophobic movements that have existed in Northern Europe and Austria for years.
Nevertheless, whether these movements are far-right, radical left or anti-political, they have the potential to upset traditional political parties, especially those that shouldered the European project decades ago. The weight of these movements is all the more important in the context of the common European challenge: the economic crisis. And Europes political integration means that today every national election has repercussions across the continent.
Its very tempting for traditional parties to take advantage of these movements by borrowing their ideas. Nicolas Sarkozys shift towards the right in response to the National Fronts increased influence is a good example of the risks of this trend.
It was obviously not a winning strategy. But the challenge from fringe parties remains. No institution or European-wide movement has yet succeeded in responding to this wave of refuseniks. But major parties will have to deal with it as soon as possible if they dont want to be overwhelmed.
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Photo - Johan Norberg