|You are in: Talking Point|
Monday, 29 April, 2002, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Could the far-right win in other European countries?
The shock election success of far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen has led other European countries to ask; could it happen here?
Mr Le Pen came second in the first round of the presidential vote on Sunday, beating off the socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, to reach the final run-off against the conservative incumbent, Jacques Chirac.
Now questions are being asked whether similar results could happen in the rest of Europe.
Two years ago, in Austria, the far-right Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider entered government.
Last year the left-of-centre government in Italy was voted out of office.
The far-right has even scored success in traditionally liberal societies like Denmark and the Netherlands.
Reasons given have included a perceived link between crime and immigrants, anxieties about job security as well as disgust at political corruption.
What do you think? Could the far-right win in other European countries?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I am afraid to say that as long as we have politicians ridiculously saying that people should not celebrate St George's day because it might offend people that aren't nationals, then yes, far right will come in!!
I believe that people are really missing the point of the vote for Le Pen, and to constantly dismiss votes for the far right as fascist and Nazi and subsequently to label voters fascists/Nazis and not to debate the key issues of immigration, sovereignty, religion and tradition will mean not to combat it properly.
Politicians have skirted around issues for so long that the electorate no longer know what government is doing. This dumbing down of government in the vague hope that soundbites will get people voting only makes the electorate disenfranchised and ignorant.
Why is it everyone assumes multiculturalism is a good thing? All we get for this is race riots and the usual garbage concerning how this somehow makes the domestic population more intelligent. In practical terms, all I see are more foreign takeaways.
The underclass in the UK have no one to turn to. Labour is now a Tory party in drag. The difference between the Far Right and Far Left is tiny. Both seek to overthrow the status quo and replace it with something people want with immediate results.
Though we might find Mr. Le Pen's views offensive (and most of us do) we must not forget that he is standing as a candidate in a democracy. It is wrong for Mr Blah to criticise Mr Le Penn just because he dislikes his views.
Graham, Henley, England
Am I understanding this question correctly? Le Pen is seen as a threat to freedom so the answer is to ban him, or ban people from voting for him, or ignoring a democratic vote for him. It is hard to see a greater violation of freedom than to prevent an adult voter from voting for the person they believe represents their viewpoint.
I believe that Economic and Monetary Union is in part responsible for the rise in nationalism and far right groups throughout Europe. Most people living within the Euro-Zone were never given the opportunity in a referendum to endorse or reject the Euro. The Euro has diminished their national identity and caused them to lose sovereignty over their economy. We are fortunate the Government in the UK intends to give us the chance to vote in a referendum, or we could be next.
Sad though it may be, the right could grow in popularity steadily over years to come. Here, they're already up in the votes from the previous 1992 election.
The problem is not apathy. Voters will not vote so long as a culture of corrupt, "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" type politics is in power. Until politicians start addressing the needs of real people and actually get in touch with the real world, particularly for local councillors, they can't moan when voters turn against them. Disillusioned left voters are easy pickings for the right. As democracy allows, until things change I just won't vote.
Jon, Morristown, NJ USA
Le Pen tops Jospin and the European and French Leftist elites have a fit. Amazing. Why is the "Far Right" in France considered more a threat to liberty than the "Far Left?" They're both rotten. If Le Pen is tainted by Nazi/Fascist ideology, why aren't the Communist/Marxist/ Trotskyite parties in France tainted by the regimes these ideologies foisted on Russia, China, East Germany, etc.?
France is an extreme case,
however, the frustration
that many people feel at
their government's inability
to address their concerns,
is typical across Europe.
Local government in the
UK is a farce, while at
national level, politicians
busy themselves pandering
to minorities. People voted
for Le Pen as a protest
against the complacent
smugness of the main
parties. It's a shot across
the bows. Rather than
lambasting Le Pen, Tony
Blair should ask himself
"why did it happen"?
To Mark, USA: I have to disagree with you. Although the UK is having problems with its social services, overall western Europeans enjoy better public transportation and more accessable health care, two areas where the US fails. They also have the luxury of not having their votes intercepted by the Electoral College, the worst mistake our founding fathers made. I don't think this vote is because of bureaucracy, as you say; I think plain and simple, it is because Chirac is too "Paris-centric" and failed to address concerns of a large proportion of the population. They are now using their votes to be heard. With any luck Chirac will respond in a way that they find sufficient.
It is funny that many of the anti-fascist/Le Pen posters seem to feel it is OK for them to dictate what people should think, feel and be allowed to say and vote for. Such postings a real example of how I define Fascism!
The Right is the natural politics of a nation state. Everyone wants what is best for them and their country, and as patriotism rises, so does the support of the Right wing. It is essential that Far-Right groups do not get massive support, however, as that will result in a situation like in the run up to WW2, with persecution and prejudice running wild. However, I believe that France would be better off with a Far-Right President than an incumbent one. Or perhaps they should bring back their monarchy?...
Inevitably, French politics will not be the same for some time. Public opinion has been changing for quite some time and seems to be in the most part a response to the asylum crisis. The French society, like ours, is very open to other cultures and that is something to be proud of. The recent swing to the right does not mean that the acceptance of other cultures has diminished but rather that the French public are responding through the only possible channel to state that they want to see some changes made to the immigration system. France has a broadly similar problem as the UK when it comes to the asylum system, but both governments are working towards a fair and just system.
I think we can be quite certain that this would never happen in England.
Stop barking at the French, they have done what many others did during an election, they voted against a party that they felt was not acting in their own best interests. Beside come the next election a new party might be voted into office, for the same reasons.
Now there is a lesson to be learnt for current governing parties in the rest of EU nations other than France. Mr. Le Pen has won the second place in the first round just because the French people wanted it that way. There is no mystery about it. If the current government is not doing their homework, people are going to look for an alternative and probably at the end there will be a price to be paid even if the election is democratic. Now is the time for an intelligent vote or afterwards France will live to regret it if a wrong decision is made.
If mainstream parties continue to disregard public opinion on important issues because discussing them has become taboo these things will keep happening.
The reaction of both the media and the mainstream parties towards Le Pen's election success, is likely to increase the swing to the far right. They are dismissing a democratic result and in doing so are further exposing their reluctance to tackle issues such as immigration and crime in a more direct and aggressive way. Meanwhile figures around Europe such as Mr Blair are telling people how they should and shouldn't vote. This is strengthening Le Pen's claim that Europe is trying to control and shape France. Thus, Mr Blair's appeal to the French people will probably secure Le Pen a few more votes than he otherwise would have received. The social discontent in France is shared by voters in most European countries and therefore it would not surprise me to see a widespread move towards the far right.
I can't believe some of the crypto-racism and total lack of ignorance by some of the posts from the UK. Damien from the UK, have you actually met anyone from anyone from an ethnic minority? Do any of you actually socialise or tried to socialise with them? Immigrants make up 2-5 percent of the population of this country contrary to what the tabloid press would have us believe, and in the majority of cases, they do try and integrate into British society. If you want a belief system in this country which practically the whole of the civilized world fought against in the 2nd World war, then vote for a far right party. If you want a party that claims the holocaust did not happen or was a mere detail of history, then vote for them. Remember, that most British people originate from immigrant stock, be it Roman, Celtic, Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Norman, French, Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, Asian or whatever. It's nothing new. In times of crisis, the people always look for easy scapegoats. Learn your own history first before jumping to conclusions.
The far right in Europe has probably reached its absolute limits. It relies on the prejudice of small minded people who are incapable of appreciating that ring-fenced non-cultures are a thing of the past. Because of improved transport, journeys which once took weeks can now be made in hours. As a result, people can and will move around the world. Sorry folks but you can shout "France for the French", "Scotland for the Scots" or even "Wimbledon for the Wombles" until the cows come home. You're just like King Canute trying to order the tide to go back. Please grow up soon and learn to live in the world as it is.
It would be surprising if the far right didn't gain more popularity in Britain. The people are becoming more and more frustrated by the unwillingness of the present Government to address the issues which affect everyday lives - such as crime. Instead they devote their time to "important" issues such as banning fox hunting.
Paul Carney, UK
Any extreme group can easily get into power. A concerted effort by such a group in vulnerable elections where there is a low turnout could easily tip the balance.
I really do not understand the view that Le Pen's popularity is 'a threat to democracy' - to me it is simply democracy in practice. He was voted for by 16% of those that did so. If the great and the good of Europe can do nothing more than wring their hands then politicians like Le Pen will enjoy increasing popularity borne of the electorate's increasing frustration with current leadership and legitimate concern for their future.
Extreme parties on either the right or left generally only get into power in times of severe economic/societal crisis. Hopefully the government in the UK will take the news from France and growing support for the BNP in England as a warning to start making some real changes. Poverty is a huge problem, and it is not exasperated by immigrants but by the powerful in society who are resistant to redistribute some of the nation's wealth in order to improve the standard of living for those at the bottom. Far-right group parties know this, they simply use the frustration of poverty to scapegoat minorities. They are not politicians, they are racists plain and simple.
Its only a matter of time before Britain and all western countries get a le Pen;- as this problem with immigrants from the third world has gone too far. Britain has not been invaded for over a thousand years, until the 1960's when so many people from third world countries began their 'silent invasion' of Europe For the most part, they don't come to integrate but to colonize, and the quicker the leaders recognize this the better, otherwise you will see a disappearance of European culture. If the situation was reversed and you went to China or India, you wouldn't see the governments there bend over backwards and worry about whether or not there were enough churches or ratios of minority groups in television dramas etc. We must preserve our identity and our heritage - it is just as important to us as theirs is to them. So yes, when Europe is threatened with losing all of this, there will be many le Pen's willing to fight to restore what is ours by right.
Whilst this is indeed a concerning situation, two things must be remembered. Firstly, Le Pen only scored a marginally higher percentage of the vote than he did in previous elections and it was only the seven way split of the left that pushed him to the fore. Secondly, it is clear he will get absolutely destroyed in the second round poll and will probably not get much higher than his current 17%. Thus, whilst it is certainly worrying, it does not necessarily represent the great catastrophe that media coverage seems to suggest.
Leah of England is absolutely correct. It is the issues that matter, not the individual candidate. There is a serious lack of debate in most European nations on issues that affect ordinary citizens. People are being left out and they resent it. Why not leave it to French citizens to vote on crucial issues such as immigration? They must have a voice in the shaping of their nation, that's what democracy is all about. Instead of name calling and emotional reporting, the media should be concentrating on the issues and present all sides OBJECTIVELY. Without fair debate, there is no democracy.
Perhaps if the media did not cry 'racist/fascist' every time that an attempt to hold a meaningful discussion regarding the issues that matter most to the electorate; eg immigration, law and order, identity cards, age of legal responsibility, right to trial and so on, then perhaps we could get somewhere. It is time the general public realised the difference between prejudice and debate.
The way to stop the fascist getting in is by toughening up EC asylum policy. If asylum seekers could only apply to a country neighbouring his/her own, there would be no reason to travel thousands of miles to reach Europe. They would simply be repatriated. Asylum is meant to mean 'refuge'. It should not be allowed to be used as a vehicle for economic relocation.
If voters see the tide turning, they will be less inclined to jump on the fascist bandwagon.
The main danger of the far right is that they are much more extreme than their public utterances suggest. They gain much of their support because mainstream politicians vilify all their policies including ones that a lot of voters find attractive. Le Pen campaigns for the deporting of illegal immigrants and locking criminals up. Plainly, a lot of French voters do not find these policies unacceptable.
I was surprised not just by Le Pen, but by the number of votes for all the extremist parties, both left and right. You know you have voter unhappiness when people in large numbers vote for authoritarianism, whether left or right. The French main political parties need to get in touch with the people.
Gary Lister, UK
Let's be clear : there isn't any rise of the far-right in France. Le Pen being in the second round doesn't mean he is likely to be elected. Only 2% of the total population (including those who didn't vote) did actually vote for this man. It's just a democratic accident.
I do not think that Chirac refusing to hold the traditional TV debate with the other candidate between the two rounds is going to do any good to democracy.
The far right see the problem of immigration as a matter of racial survival. Socially deprived people naturally perceive investment in growing immigrant communities as a threat to their way of living. Enoch Powell was a distinguished and intelligent politician but he was portrayed as a racist bigot. Mainstream politicians refused to take him seriously and he went away. The extremists will not simply disappear - instead they will continue to recruit from a portion of society that feels increasingly disenfranchised. Unless something is done to both ensure and demonstrate that the indigenous population is not disadvantaged then the far right will have a growing supply of people willing to pledge their votes.
Great news for Chirac! Guarantees him 5 more years. Got to feel sorry for left-leaning voters with no way to turn.
The French were those who were most eager to "punish" Austria with the so-called EU-sanctions some one and a half year ago. So, where are the voices of the EU now? It seems they have suddenly lost their courage. After all, a small country like Austria is much easier to suppress than the big France!
What a choice the French voters have! A fascist, racist loony or a proven incompetent bureaucrat. And we call this democracy? If I were French, I'd be heading for the Chunnel as fast as possible.
I would like to remind politicians that my taxes pay your salary, not the other way around. You are therefore answerable to me and my fellow taxpayers and voters. If you refuse to listen to me, and address my concerns, then the likes of Le Pen will become increasingly powerful. As others have said, this is not because people agree with him, but because he is a closer match to their views than the allegedly mainstream options. New Labour take note - this will happen in the UK if the ordinary voter continues to feel ignored.
Could the far right win in other European countries?
The answer is clearly "yes," and we have already begun to see its first manifestations, especially in Denmark and in The Netherlands.
I have no doubt at all that the French will vote massively for Mr Chirac in the 2nd round on May 5th. It is then that the real problems will begin.
I still remember Robert Heinlein's "Future History" series in which Nehemiah Scudder gained the support of a small section of the electorate and, in an election with a turnout of around 5%, became president and turned the United States into a theocracy.
By the way. I would never dream of supporting someone like Bush but it is insulting to compare Bush with Le Pen. Bush is, whatever you think of him, a believer in Democracy. The last US Presidential election may have been flawed but Bush (and Gore for that matter) had a lot more support than Le Pen, Jospin, or even Chirac.
Daniel Perdurant, Greece/USA
Is anyone really surprised? I'm not! If the governments of Western Europe insist on basing their politics on spin and political correctness (stand up Mr. Blair) rather than what the people want you are going to inevitably develop a feeling of apathy.
Western Europe is being overrun by bogus asylum seekers, many of whom are resorting to crime. As a result the average law-abiding citizen is going to vote for those parties which promise to do something about it, not stand by and watch the situation spiral out of control because of overwrought political correctness.
Within the European Context, I think the
far right will increasingly win electoral support
in other countries like Switzerland, Russia, Italy etc not so much because
of their populist appeal but rather because of the weakness of established moderate / conservative or reform minded parties. Hence, where established politicians fail to explain the societal benefits of immigration and free trade, immigrants will wrongly (but easily) be identified with al evils of this world.
Richard, Michigan USA
It's ugly but not surprising at all to see a reaching for a more extreme alternative when moderation fails. The West is in the grip of elitist left wing culture that transcends the ability of the average citizen to control. Immigration has irreparably changed the cultural character of western nations, and was accomplished without the consent of the governed. Issues like Gay Rights, Family Law, Capital Punishment have all been decided either by an activist judiciary, or by legislatures in mid term without the benefit of going to the voters for consent.
All the passion and idealism has been sucked out of politics by the centre left and centre right trying to please the focus groups and business interests (In the UK as well as in France). The only crude tools at the electorates' disposal to protest at this banalisation are to either abstain -which politicians are happy to interpret to their own ends: "the electorate are comfortable and don't see the need to change"- or to vote for someone thoroughly unpleasant.
Yes, they will be winning - slowly but surely.
Incompetence and "ostrich policy" - (we do not mention it, therefore it does not exist) - of many
European governments to this hot and sensitive subject gives the extremists a feeding ground. But it was a large (over 16%) part of French voters who said yes to Le Pen and huge abstentions are irrelevant here - why are they so surprised now? The only way the French Government is dealing with this subject is to allow immigrants to invade the Chunnel a few times per week to get rid of them, not to face it, ignoring our pleas
to block them.
Mike Atkinson, UK
Talk over the top, must people including the media are talking a load of rubbish.
I must say having read some of the comments on this site, that I am increasingly worried about feelings in my own country let alone those on the continent. Immigration is a problem. Disenfranchised people are a problem. But what I seem to be hearing is a coded-language that wants to exclude anyone who we don't feel comfortable around. I am sure no one is talking about all the Aussies and South Africans that move to England. We must have programmes that look after all sections of our populations, including our immigrant communities, and indigenous peoples living on or below the poverty line.
The Le Pen experience probably won't take hold in the UK: thankfully, our own extreme right got a negligible share of the vote at the last election and our citizenship laws are better equipped to integrate immigrants. However, the fact the BNP probably won't see power is not a cause for celebration in itself. Even the smallest fascist vote will stoke up racial tensions further so long as Nick Griffin's ugly cohorts stir up hatred and bigotry.
I find it amusing that in this predictable uproar over Le Pen's victory few realize what the missing common denominator has always been....a legitimate female candidate...odd how in 2002 that the world is still so patriarchal in religion and politics.
Too right it could happen here!
There are far too many people in our country who are woefully ignorant of the true situation regarding the cost of immigration, the effect this has on jobs etc. Their ignorance gives rise to fear and blame, whipped up to the point of near hysteria by the tabloid press, and capitalised upon by parties of the right, some relatively harmless, and other far more disturbing.
Paul T Horgan, UK
Is it so surprising that far-right parties are gaining ground? The man in the street doesn't want thousands of illegal immigrants overrunning the country every year. Genuine pleas for asylum should be heard and accepted, but when governments are so weak as to ignore a politically incorrect subject, normally moderate people have to look to extremes. Tony Blair may complain, but it will be voter apathy over relentless spin, corruption and political correctness that will see the far-right becoming ever more popular.
This can happen anywhere where there is voter apathy. It is the people with the strongest opinions who make the most effort to go out and vote.
Westminster should be worried about the increased popularity of the right in Europe, as the UK is politically a very fertile area for such views.
Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties are gaining ground, and in England the question of why the English are so under-represented (in the sense that there is no English Parliament) becomes a mainstream electoral one.
It is up to all of us to ensure that a climate exists in which these problems can be discussed without resorting to cheap, meaningless jibes of racism. This is one problem which cannot be ignored.
A powerful and extreme far-right in the UK? Another five years of insincere and manipulative party politics will guarantee it.
Michael, Canberra, Australia
I have to agree with others who have written in about this. Any voter apathy is a direct result of the uninspired leadership of the mainstream political party leaders. As one woman interviewed in France today said they now have a choice between a gangster and a fascist. What kind of choice is that?
Maybe it's understandable that some people might not wish to accept immigrants from societies where concepts such as equality for women, a high degree of personal liberty and freedom, separation of religion and state, and absence of capital punishment are alien. It was once impossible for liberals to consider these possibilities but in a world of ever increasing population movements, mainstream governments may have to risk the wrath of liberals to obliterate the Le Pens.
In response to Brian, USA: The American situation is very different to that of the UK and European political systems. In the USA you have a triumvirate source of power - the Senate, Congress and the White House. In Europe it is slightly different. The "tizzy" that we are working ourselves up in is because if Le Pen does come to power he could manipulate the situation and turn France into a fascist country that does not represent the views of the majority (and yes low voter turn out can mean that the party no one wants gets voted in - Labour won their second election with only 25% of the vote. 75% of this country did not vote for them and yet we are under their rule).
In the 1930's Hitler too was voted in due to voter apathy, lack of choice and so on. Once in power he was able to use the public discourse as an excuse to order Martial Law and then turned Germany into a totalitarian state. The same could happen with Le Pen and that is the worry. When one of the leading candidates is openly racist and fascist there is a big concern, not just for the people of France but for the world. We do not want to witness what our forefathers witnessed and my grandfathers fought hard for this country so that a situation like this would not occur again. Sitting back and saying "don't get in a tizzy" is exactly the wrong attitude to have. This is a wake up call and considering the current global political climate we should be concerned and we should be vigilant.
Unfortunately, what happened in France this weekend may happen in other countries where traditional parties have lost contact with people's expectations and where voters cast their vote, in what they sought as a risk-free vote, to extremist parties. What is worrying is not only that the far-right scored well but that both left extremist parties' votes and abstentions were high.
It is disturbing and worrying that the French electorate have allowed this candidate to become a frontrunner. It should serve as a lesson to us all just how dangerous apathy can be. Let us hope that the people of France realise this and make sure that he does not end up as their president!
These kind of results are disturbing for minorities living in countries such as France. Something has to be done before is too late, and in this instance that means voting Mr Chirac back in.
Left or right, is it wrong to be proud of your own people, own country, own culture, own language? Isn't this what being patriotic represents? It is very important to know who you are and to keep your national identity in tact.
I believe that this whole Le Pen debacle illustrates the need for people to vote for mainstream parties, despite their imperfections. The recent trend towards protest voting, due to an apparent dissatisfaction with the major political parties, can lead to highly unintended consequences. Many of those who voted for Ralph Nader here in the US deeply regret that they helped elect Bush, as I am sure many of those who voted for far left-wing candidates in France now regret what they did. Rarely do the main political parties put forward "perfect" candidates, but your views are more likely to be represented if you vote for that "imperfect" mainstream candidate, than if you waste your vote on a fringe candidate who has no chance of being elected.
For many, this has already happened in the US, in the electoral mess which brought Bush and his far-right cronies to power. In the US, we can no longer crow about how wonderful our "democracy" is since it no longer exists here.
Yes, it definitely could spread. Just take a few complex social problems, a few loudmouth politicians who think they have simple answers to complex issues, and a bunch of misinformed voters - usually tabloid readers - and hey presto! One far-right (or far-left) government. It's up to you and me to stop this from happening!
Rob Powell, UK
Yes definitely. Look how many countries have moved towards the right in the last few years - Austria, Italy, Portugal and now France. Extremists of both wings will always vote so it is up to mainstream politicians to engage people so that they actually feel part of the process and relevant, otherwise election turnouts will drop even further. There must also be a much more positive agenda. As it stands there is far too much emphasis on security and crime, which plays into the hands of extremists like Le Pen. Let's hope this is a wake up call.
This has served to remind people of a simple fact. If you do not vote, you will not affect the result.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Other Talking Points:
Links to more Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy