There is an uncertain line in the sand on he radical right between legitimate nationalism and unacceptable racism.
The European far-right is more united than it has been for over half a century. Nationalist, anti-EU and anti-immigration parties are coming together in increasingly cohesive pan-European movements.
EU elections, with their low turnout and use of a proportional representation voting system, favour minor, radical and single-issue parties. Main parties are more concerned with national elections, and thus it is in the EU that the far right gets its toe in the door. Some projections suggest that eurosceptics may make up 30 per cent of the European Parliament following this year’s elections.
The charter of the ‘Europe and Freedom of Democracy’ EU group states that “the Group rejects xenophobia, anti-Semitism and any other form of discrimination.” The fact that this bloc of anti-EU MEPS feels the need to include this disclaimer in their official manifesto points to the somewhat chequered history of its constituent parties.
UKIP, the largest party in the group, sits with some unpleasant people. The other major party in the faction is the Italian Northern League, whose members have recently blacked up in Parliament and compared the country’s first black cabinet minister to an orang-utan. The third-largest party, United Poland, have stated that “There is no place for homosexuals in our party.”
For an EU group to gain access to central funding and seats on committees, it has to have at least 25 members from 7 different countries. “[Our membership of EFD] is a marriage of convenience, so we get speaking time in the parliament. There is no necessity for commonality of policy,” a UKIP spokesman insisted, making no mention of the strings of racist and homophobic gaffes committed by members of his own party.
Yet all these parties peddle a similar brand of nationalism, condemning immigration and advocating a return to nation-state individualism alongside a range of socially conservative policies. As they have learnt to play down the racist implications of their policies and capitalise on widespread disillusionment with the EU, so they have learned to set aside their differences and work together.
The European far-right is a complicated and fast-evolving place. Last year, vocal Dutch Islamphobe Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen, the French moderniser of the National Front, announced an alliance going into the 2014 European elections. It seems likely the Northern League will abandon UKIP and the rest of the EFD in favour of this new bloc of nationalists.
“Another grouping would leave the EFD as the moderate Eurosceptic group in the European Parliament,” a UKIP spokesman stated. “And that would be good for UKIP.” But if they lost their ‘group’ mandate they would lose their parliamentary privileges. Thus the emergence of this new faction might push UKIP’s MEPs further to the right if they end up joining this new right-wing bloc.
Outside of the EU, other international links continue to thrive. Hungary’s fascist Jobbik party now holds 47 seats in their national assembly and its influence is spreading across Europe.
Jobbik’s leaders have recently travelled to the UK and Poland to spread their doctrines, and a spokesman for the organisation said they wanted to forge an “alliance that spreads from the Adriatic to the Baltic Sea”.
Last week also saw the launch of a new right-wing youth network, the Young European Alliance For Hope, between France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and the Sweden Democrats.
This networkseems to embody the evolving spirit of co-operation amongst European nationalists. But it also embodies the far right’s continued inability to form a truly pan-European consensus.
UKIP, Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party and the Northern League have all declined to join the YEAH. After an Austrian delegate at their launch event described the EU as a “conglomerate of Negroes”, the Sweden Democrats called into question the future of the alliance- just days after it was publicly launched.
The far-right has always been atomised. Their nationalist tendencies do not naturally lend themselves to international co-operation.
Any radical organisation necessarily teeters on the brink of legitimacy, and each party is keen to distance itself from those it perceives as veering too extremely from the security of the populist centre-right. The result is perpetual infighting between parties, factions and individual members.
Thus Nigel Farage is distancing himself from the alliance of Wilders and Le Pen: they in turn distance themselves from Golden Dawn, the violent but increasingly popular neo-Nazi party from Greece. Jobbik have also distanced themselves from the slightly more open violence of Golden Dawn: but the French National Front distance themselves from the slightly more open anti-Semitism of Jobbik.
It goes on. Le Pen’s supporters are wary of Wilder’s open anti-Semitism. An anti-Moroccan speech he made last week may cost him dearly, as support at home plummets. Nikki Sinclaire left UKIP because she could not stomach the policies of their current comrades in the EFD.
The right-wing is a bafflingly complex place, where populist euro-sceptics rub shoulders with radical ethno-nationalists. There is an uncertain line in the sand between legitimate nationalism and unacceptable racism, and when parties or individuals cross it then they are cut loose from the uneasy nationalist consensus.
Yet despite this, there is unprecedented consensus and compromise amongst the far right, spreading from Hungary to England via the corridors of the European Union. The aftermath of the 2014 EU elections will be the best indication yet of whether the far right is truly learning to work as a cohesive whole.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.