European Elections: A Step Backwards?

As Europe’s economic condition remains stagnant, racism is increasing to a frightening degree reminiscent of the continent’s darkest period in modern history. While the Nazi era is long gone, there has been a considerable resurgence of anti-Semitism and intolerance that seems to be fueling the success of some European political parties. The outcomes of the recent European Parliament elections only solidify this trend.

The conversations revolving around the elections focused on three main concepts: job creation / economic growth, euroskepticism, and immigration. For many Europeans, these three are inextricably related. Some European Union (EU) citizens blame immigrants and the apparent ineffectiveness of EU integration for the high unemployment rates that have devastated EU countries. In states where unemployment is the highest, like Greece and Spain, dissatisfaction with the EU is also the strongest.

Many argue that Greece’s unstable economy and unbelievably high unemployment rate have led to the success of a mob-like political party called Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn is a neo-Nazi group that currently has more than two dozen members in jail and several members under investigation for allegedly assassinating the anti-Fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas. The political group also has a swastika-like flag, deems homosexuality a “sickness,” and reveres Hitler as a great man. The party won three out of Greece’s 21 seats in the European Parliament Elections . One in six Athenians also voted for its leader, Ilias Kasidiaris, to become mayor of Athens. The Grecian response and apparent resonance with the ideologies of the neo-Nazi group are the most extreme across Europe, and are intensifying racial divisions across the country.

Unfortunately, these terrifying figures are only part of a much larger trend in the EU, spanning all the way from France to Hungary. For example, the Movement for a Better Hungary, commonly referred to as Jobbik, is a neo-Nazi political group similar to Golden Dawn that also secured victories during the European Parliament elections.  Jobbik is known as an anti-Semitic, pro-Christian political group that wants to expand its influence across the continent to create a far-right political coalition. Jobbik maintained their previous three out of the 21 seats Hungary holds in the European Parliament and is now the country’s second largest political party.

While Jobbik and Golden Dawn represent some of the more extreme political organizations in Europe, more moderate ones with similar agendas have distanced themselves to capture a larger European audience. This includes France’s National Front, led by Marine Le Pen ( the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who founded the party in the early 1970s) . The National Front was included in a group of nonaffiliated lawmakers in the Elections—these are politicians that do not belong to any of the parties from the last European Parliament. Many groups included under the umbrella of nonaffiliated lawmakers have attempted to form a far-right coalition to increase their political power. However, those efforts have been met with marginal success and are likely to continue to do so. Many of the nonaffiliated lawmakers were from right-wing, anti-EU parties. This group saw the greatest increase of all the parties during the elections—gaining 72 seats for a total of 105 out of the 751 seats in the Parliament.

The National Front defeated many of France’s established parties to gain the majority of votes in France. Much of their success has been attributed to the efforts of Marine Le Pen, whose biggest challenge has remained rebranding the party away from an anti-Semitic history. Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, created the party as a refuge for neo-Nazis. The party was previously known as a highly racist and elitist group of people who hold anti-Semitic beliefs. Jean-Marie Le Pen has an extensive history of making anti-Semitic remarks. Most recently, in an interview he was asked to share his thoughts on some of his critics like Jewish actor and singer Patrick Bruel. Jean-Marie Le Pen responded, “we’ll make a batch of them next time” using the French word “fournee,” a reference to the ovens of the Nazi death camps.

While Marine Le Pen has done a fairly good job of distancing the party from its history and her father’s remarks by refusing to associate with Jobbik and Golden Dawn and focusing her platform solely on euroskepticism- a philosophy that disputes any benefits of EU integration-she has not done enough. She must fully isolate her party from her father instead of merely citing his racist remarks as “political error” and removing his recent interview from her party’s website. This tide of electoral opinion is striking in a country like France where revolutionaries sought to instill social equality in the not too distant past.

It is evident that racism is increasing across Europe, however the cause of this intolerance still remains blurry. It seems that this resurgence of Nazi sentiments and the rise of political groups that praise anti-Semitism stems  from the economic downturn Europeans are experiencing. Immigration reform has been at the forefront of several European party campaigns, due in large part to the effects of the Syrian civil war and the Arab Spring. The number of people fleeing tumultuous situations at home for refuge in Europe has increased dramatically, prompting politicians to adopt strict anti-immigration beliefs.

Political leaders, like Nigel Farage who heads the UK Independence Party and has made racist remarks about Romanians, is another example of the success of extremist, anti-immigrant views (UKIP). UKIP received the greatest votes of any British party, winning 24 out of the UK’s 73 seats in the European Parliament. UKIP’s 2010 manifesto included policies such as ending the active promotion of multiculturalism  and increasing defense spending by 40%. Farage has since openly condemned the manifesto and claims it no longer represents the beliefs of UKIP. The UKIP’s 2014 manifesto is simpler and focuses mainly on UK separation from the EU and controlling immigration to prioritize “local people”, however the apparent softening of its position does not mask its continued anti-immigrant beliefs.

The increased intolerance and racism among some Europeans is perpetuated by a political climate that has deemed these ideologies acceptable. While Greece’s government has imprisoned members of the Golden Dawn, it is clear those efforts have not impacted the growing popularity of the dangerous neo-Nazi group. In France, besides simply disassociating with Golden Dawn and Jobbik, Marine Le Pen must stand up to her father and emphasize her party’s total intolerance for anyone who holds anti-Semitic beliefs.

While it is clear we are past the Nazi era, these pockets of intolerance are creating serious fears among the targeted minorities that live in areas where groups like Golden Dawn have strong ties. Although these groups do not share a majority in Parliament and many Europeans condemn them as unjust, their increasing popularity is a serious cause for concern. The majority of citizens in two major European countries, France and the UK, voted for two political groups that have histories of racism and promote exclusionary policies. The idea that the criminals that constitute Golden Dawn now have political power in the affairs of the EU, however minor it may be, is not only disappointing but frightening. While some of this burgeoning racism must stem from many of the anti-immigration movements gaining ground in Europe, economic duress should never allow a return to the politics of racism.

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