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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Immigration fears boost Europe's right
Joao Varela (right) number two on the Pim Fortuyn party list stands next to the dead politician's portrait
Pim Fortuyn broke a political taboo (picture: AP)
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By William Horsley
BBC European affairs correspondent

The crushing defeat of the Social Democrat-led government in the Netherlands confirms the trend recently seen in France, with the shock defeat of the Socialist Lionel Jospin and record support for Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front.

In France, the Netherlands and elsewhere, many voters on low-to-middle incomes have turned away from left-of-centre parties and embraced resurgent right-wing groups instead.

The Social Democrats claim to have a good record of economic growth and cutting unemployment.

  Click here for a graphic comparing seats in parliament 1998 and 2002

Yet voters feel vulnerable and fed up with their old leaders, and it seems the biggest motive is fear of the changes that have come with uncontrolled immigration.

Pim Fortuyn broke a political taboo by claiming that Islam was "backward" because of its treatment of women and gay people.

Asylum applications 2001
Austria: 24,513
Denmark: 12,512
Netherlands: 32,579
UK: 72,000
But that comment struck a chord with voters, who want the next government to take steps to make immigrants conform to Dutch customs, including language learning and accepting liberal social attitudes.

In the Netherlands a spirited debate can now be expected on that.

Already governments in many parts of Europe, including Britain, Denmark and Austria are taking steps to oblige immigrants to learn the country's language and accept its concept of citizenship.

At the same time the European Union is making new efforts to stop the influx of illegal immigrants, and work out common immigration policies to satisfy the real economic need for immigrant labour.

There are no easy solutions to these sensitive problems.

Illegal immigration is impossible to stop because of the EU's extensive borders and coastline.

Hardline anti-immigrant attitudes in places like Germany and Austria make more liberal policies difficult.

And Muslim and other minority communities everywhere want reassurance that the shift to the right will not mean more discrimination and hardship for them.

graph showing parliamentary seats
  Click here to return
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"It's a nasty shake up for mainstream politics"
Willem van der Welden of Pim Fortuyn's LPF
"We cannot flood the country with thousands of immigrants if we cannot accommodate them"
See also:

16 May 02 | Europe
'An electoral revolution'
15 May 02 | Europe
Fortuyn's foes named in lawsuit
14 May 02 | Europe
Inquiry into Fortuyn's security
16 May 02 | Europe
Analysis: Dutch turn to the right
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