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Electoral breakthrough

April 19, 2011

Right-wing populist parties are on the rise across large swathes of Europe, as demonstrated in Finland this week. Bolstered by resentments over the EU, immigration and Islam, their leaders have seized the moment.

Timo Soini
Soini has Brussels and bailouts in his sightsImage: AP

The success of the anti-immigration, euroskeptic True Finns in Sunday's elections may have proved a shock to Finland's political elite, but the signs were already there.

Populist right-wing parties across Europe have benefited from a growing resentment towards the European Union, Islam and immigration, meaning Timo Soini's True Finns are far from being alone.

Soini, whose party gained 39 seats in the 200-seat Finnish legislature, wants to reduce immigration and to oppose Finnish backing for EU bailout funds.

Across the Baltic, the like-minded Swedish Democrats garnered 5.7 percent of the vote in last September's vote, surpassing the 4 percent barrier and gaining parliamentary representation for the first time.

The party's success under young leader Jimmie Akesson meant the country's center-right and liberal coalition was forced to preside as a minority government. Despite having far-right roots, the Swedish Democrats have managed to adopt a more accessible, moderate image and have capitalized on growing resentment of immigration.

Over the border in Norway, the anti-immigrant Progress Party enjoyed its best-ever results in 2009, winning 23 percent of the vote. The party is seeking to widen its appeal by distancing itself from the more extremist views on immigration and focusing on more traditional left-right politics such as criticism of the welfare state.

Rounding out the Scandinavian countries, the Danish People's Party is building on what is now an established position within the country's parliament. It has been the third biggest party since 2001 and has garnered much support with its appeals against a perceived, creeping "Islamification" of Denmark.

French presidential hopeful?

Marine Le Pen
Le Pen has her eye on the presidency in FranceImage: dapd

The rise of the right hasn't been limited to northern Europe. France's far-right National Front scored 11 percent of votes in municipal elections in March, having seen its popularity increase under new leader Marine Le Pen.

A recent poll for the daily French newspaper Le Parisien - suggesting that Le Pen herself could win the first round in next year's presidential elections, beating any mainstream rival - sent shockwaves through the French political elite. Although the party has no seats in parliament, it remains a powerful political force.

French concerns about immigration are likely to be fueled by the possibility of large numbers of French-speaking Tunisian immigrants arriving in the country via Italy.

The government in Rome is run by a coalition involving the anti-immigration Northern League, whose leader Umberto Bossi was, until recently, keen to see a general election in which he felt he could make gains.

A rise in support for the Italian center-right at the end of last year may have cooled his ambitions, but Bossi may soon be looking to capitalize on the growing concern about the waves of Tunisian immigrants arriving from across the Mediterranean.

Part of the establishment

Across the Alps, the Swiss People's Party won 29 percent of the vote in a 2007 general election and is part of the country's ruling coalition.

The party has enjoyed a number of recent successes, including approval from residents in a referendum for a ban on the construction of new mosque minarets.

Geert Wilders
Wilders' party has garnered support with its anti-Islam messageImage: AP

Anti-Islamic sentiment is also in evidence in the Netherlands, with the success of Geert Wilders' anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV). Now the country's third-largest party, the PVV works in cooperation with the country's ruling coalition without formally being a part of it.

The 47-year-old Wilders made his name with a film that compares the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and is currently facing charges of hate speech.

Similarly, the leader of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, who has also enjoyed recent electoral success, has recorded rap songs about his opposition to both Brussels and Islamification, those two familiar betes noires of the populist right.

Next door in Hungary, the far-right Jobbik party has capitalized on resentment against the country's Roma minority. It has even called for members of the community considered to be a threat to public safety to be put in strictly controlled "public order protection" camps.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler