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Europe swings left

September 23rd, 2002

The re-election of the German Social-Democrat Green coalition last night, following that of the Swedish Social Democrats last month, marks the end of the European swing to the right that begin with the Austrian elections of 1999 when the far-right (see below) Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider gained 27 per cent of the vote and entered a coalition government with the conservative People’s Party, displacing their previous coalition partner, the Social Democrats. Over the next three years, similar coalitions of the right and far-right, or right-wing governments dependent on far-right support took office in Italy, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, the French socialist government lost office after elections in which the most notable feature was a strong showing by the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Most of the right-far-right coalitions are now in serious trouble. The Austrian government has collapsed following an attempt by Haider (a provincial governor) to reassert control over the Freedom Party against its national leadership. Elections are scheduled for November 24, and defeat for the coalition is predicted. Italian PM Berlusconi is frantically trying to change the law to protect himself from trial on corruption charges. In the Netherlands, support for the Pim Fortuyn list has fallen sharply following, among other things, the exposure of its deputy leader as a participant in a violent military coup in her native Surinam. English-language coverage of events in Denmakr and Norway is spotty, to put in mildly, but there’s every reason to hope that the right-wing governments there won’t manage a second term.
The situation is even better in the Eastern Europe, where the far-right has had a series of defeats in the Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It now seems almost certain that the expansion of the EU to encompass as many as ten additional Eastern European countries will proceed as planned. The expansion will dismay not only the European far-right, but many on the American right, who are counting on Eastern European countries to provide military bases for a successor to NATOand general support for free-market policies against European social democracy.
Note: The term ‘far-right’ is a convenient catch-all label covering the European parties listed above, as well as like-minded politicians and parties in English-speaking countries, notably Pat Buchanan, Pauline Hanson and Winston Peters. Although there are plenty of differences, there is a clear family resemblance. For example, all are hostile to immigration, although some object to Asians, others to Muslims and still others to Eastern Europeans. I’ll try and come back to this question, and the relationship of the Howard government to the Australian and European far-right, in a later post.

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