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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Analysis: Spotlight on Europe's right
Jean-Marie Le Pen
Jean-Marie Le Pen sent a shockwave through France
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By Barnaby Mason
BBC diplomatic correspondent
line

Wednesday's parliamentary election in the Netherlands, little more than a week after the murder of the right-wing populist politician Pim Fortuyn, raises again the question of the rise of the far right across Europe.

There has been a lot of hard thinking since the political thunderbolt of Jean-Marie Le Pen's second place in the French presidential election.

The opinion polls suggested Pim Fortuyn's List, a now leaderless party of political novices, would come second to the centre-right Christian Democrats - boosted slightly by public sympathy at his death.

With Mr Fortuyn, as with Mr Le Pen, there are specific reasons for electoral success.

His anti-immigration message was more subtle, attuned to Dutch social liberalism and even tolerance.

Pim Fortuyn
Pim Fortuyn's murder caused widespread shock
But Mr Fortuyn turned these values on their heads, arguing that to preserve them it was necessary to be intolerant of further immigration and of Islam, which he described as backward.

He did not call for the immigrant minority to be expelled - on the contrary they should be integrated into the Netherlands, but that meant adopting Dutch culture.

Pim Fortuyn rejected comparisons with Mr Le Pen and with Joerg Haider, the Austrian populist whose far-right Freedom Party provoked a row with the European Union when it entered the government two years ago.

They are allegedly quite different - crude figures whose most notorious remarks looked back to the fascism of the Nazis.

There are other far-right leaders in Europe who present themselves as sophisticated, modern politicians. They include the leader of the Danish People's Party, Pia Kjaersgaard; and in Italy Gianfranco Fini, a member of Silvio Berlusconi's coalition. His National Alliance is now respectable but has roots among Mussolini's fascists.

'Brother-in-arms'

Another of Mr Berlusconi's allies, Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, is a more outspoken and rough-edged nationalist.

And the leader of the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, which took a third of the vote in Antwerp two years ago, described Mr Le Pen as a brother-in-arms.

It is not surprising that extreme right wingers should manifest themselves in various shapes and sizes - mainstream politicians certainly do.

Gianfranco Fini
Gianfranco Fini: Part of a right-wing coalition
But there is one issue that binds them together across Europe and that is immigration. Vehement opposition to any more of it has won support for the far right in all the countries mentioned and others besides.

The far-right Popular Party is in government in Portugal. A few months ago a new law and order party won 20% of the vote in the German city of Hamburg. Even the British National Party, tiny in national terms, won three local council seats in the English town of Burnley.

European leaders are certainly taking the challenge of the far right seriously. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said democrats of all persuasions had to stand together in solidarity against extremist policies.

Crime issue

Mr Blair was speaking after discussing the situation with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin - two centre-left leaders who are looking increasingly isolated in Europe.

Mr Schroeder pointed to a resurgence of nationalism which threatened European integration and the enlargement of the European Union.

And in a newspaper interview, he identified a feeling among the public in some countries that the question of internal security - that is crime, often blamed on immigrants - had not been properly dealt with.

It is not clear that mainstream politicians have worked out what strategy to adopt to address people's concerns and thus combat the extreme right.

Governments can move to the right themselves and many have - some in word, some in deed. Denmark, for instance, has denied new arrivals the right to full welfare benefits.

The rhetoric of the centre-left has hardened. Britain is a good example.

But far-right parties will always be able to outflank governments on law and order and immigration, unless perhaps they are part of those governments themselves. Some advocate bringing them in with the idea of exposing their lack of policies and solutions to other problems.

In Britain, the outspoken minister for Europe, Peter Hain, caused a row when he said that Muslim immigrants could be very isolationist. He said they were welcome but they had to integrate into British culture.

Labour shortage

Such remarks, Muslim and other critics said, were simplistic and gave legitimacy to right-wing extremists. The view of social liberals in Britain and elsewhere is that mainstream politicians should have the courage of their convictions and speak up in favour of tolerance.

There are other arguments against tightening the already tough restrictions on immigration into western Europe. One is that it is almost impossible to stem the tide - another that making more immigrants illegal will increase public resentment of them.

Several analysts also argue that Europe's rapidly ageing population and declining fertility will mean a shortage of labour that must be filled partly by immigration.

There are no easy answers. The difficulty the EU is having in agreeing on common asylum and immigration policies demonstrates that.

And the problems that have fed the rise of the right are likely to get worse.

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