The UMP, of course, is not alone in facing the dilemma of how to deal with the far Right. It’s become a common theme in the politics of Europe, with responses ranging from the aggressive prosecution of Greece’s Golden Dawn (by a centre-right government) to the way Slovakia’s centre-left reduced the far right to irrelevance by taking them into coalition.
No single strategy works for all circumstances. France’s National Front doesn’t have quite the Nazi-like appearance of Golden Dawn, but it’s toxic enough. The question is whether locking it out of influence altogether is a necessary precaution or whether it just feeds its narrative of victimisation by an elite conspiracy.
The theme of diversity on the far right is also visible in a report last week from the Netherlands. Geert Wilders, leader of the Party of Freedom and friend of Cory Bernardi, is said to be facing a complaint of discrimination after having specifically targeted Moroccan immigrants in a speech to an election night rally in The Hague.
According to the BBC, critics “accuse the outspoken politician of alluding to a promise of action that, taken to its literal conclusion, could resemble ethnic cleansing.” A spokeswoman for the Dutch Moroccan Alliance is quoted saying that “now he is attacking an entire ethnic group. Now he’s gone a step too far it’s very scary and potentially dangerous.”
I certainly don’t endorse the idea that Wilders should be prosecuted for expressing his racist views. But with elections for the European parliament coming up in May, it’s a timely reminder of the complex relationship between the demons of the far right and the more innocent-sounding banner of “euroscepticism”.
When we looked at this a few months ago, Wilders had just met with Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, to announce their attempt to establish a new group in the European parliament for like-minded parties: further to the right than the existing “Europe of Freedom and Democracy” (EFD), but short of the openly neo-Nazi forces like Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s Golden Dawn.
Neither Wilders nor Le Pen wants to admit that the common bond between them is racism, so the talk is mostly of euroscepticism: downgrading the European Union and reclaiming more powers for national governments – including, of course, power over immigration.
But EFD is already there as a eurosceptic parliamentary group, with the UK Independence Party as its largest component. And not only is UKIP leader Nigel Farage unwilling to be seen with the likes of Wilders, he’s under fire for the way in which EFD leans too far to the right as it is. A number of its members, including some from Italy, Belgium and Denmark, seem prone to the sort of incendiary anti-Muslim rhetoric that Wilders specialises in.
The second-biggest party in EFD is Italy’s Northern League, and persistent reports suggest that it may be willing to link up with Wilders and Le Pen after the elections. At one level UKIP would probably be pleased to see it go, but it’s unclear that EFD would have enough members to be able to continue as a parliamentary group without it.
According to the Guardian, a spokesman said “Ukip is a libertarian party which condemns racism and xenophobia.” Clearly the party wants to think of itself as eurosceptic but not otherwise extremist, perhaps along the lines of recent populist movements like Team Stronach in Austria or ANO in the Czech Republic. But that runs up against the reality that its voters are primarily driven by xenophobia, not by some general love of British freedom against European bureaucracy.
Perhaps the moral that Farage would draw is that Britain is too different for its party system to be able to align with the rest of Europe, and that this reinforces his wish to leave the EU. But as long as Britain stays put, it’s going to be interesting to see how the various shades of the far right rearrange themselves.