The European elections that took place this weekend across Europe come as a stark reminder that we cannot continue to be complacent in the face of the surge of parties propagating racist and xenophobic ideas and policies, writes Sarah Isal.
There has been an alarming 50% increase of the far right in these elections, compared to the previous European elections in 2009. Sixty million ethnic and religious minorities will now be the targets of hatred by 78 MEPs, 10% of all MEPs, within the new European Parliament, according to the latest results.
In France in particular, the Front National gained the largest number of votes, about a third of the total number of French seats. Other countries with high support for xenophobic parties include the United Kingdom with UKIP winning the elections with 27.5 %; Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party also came first with 26.6%; and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) which came third with 19.5 %. These elections will also see the entry of outright neo-Nazi parties into the European Parliament, with three seats for the Golden Dawn in Greece (10% of the votes), three for Jobbik in Hungary (15% of votes), and even one seat for the National Democratic Party (NPD) in Germany.
When there is such support for racist and xenophobic parties, it should set alarm bells ringing for mainstream parties and for society at large. We cannot allow 12% of the European population to be unfairly treated as scapegoats, discriminated against, and worse, become the victims of racist violence. This election will result in millions of people in the EU being further excluded from society and in jeopardising the adoption of progressive measures to reduce inequalities. Even progress already made on equality legislation and fundamental rights may suffer a setback.
In addition, there is a strong likelihood that these MEPs may establish one or more political groups in the European Parliament. This would entitle them to receive public EU money and give them more influence, such as the possibility to chair committees. What if a far-right or populist right MEP was to chair the civil liberties committee, in charge of fundamental rights issues? Even if they would face a majority opposition, this will slow down decision making processes and prevent the adoption of progressive policies and laws.
It is therefore urgent that mainstream political parties finally act to end this dangerous escalation. To do this, they must stop pandering to “easy” solutions proposed by the far right and adopt policies to ensure less inequalities, more solidarity, and more social welfare. Such policies also make economic sense: for instance, investing in Roma inclusion would increase GDPs by more than 3% and government budgets by more than 4% annually. Immigrants from Eastern Europe have added almost £ 5 billion to Britain’s economy since 2004.
The increase in far right MEPs must have the effect of an electric shock on mainstream parties. The level of inequalities in Europe is currently the same as it was in 1910. It is high time that democrats wake up and connect the dots between politics, economics, growing inequalities and the increase of hatred and violence in our societies.
The European anti-racist movement will also mobilise progressive forces during the next parliamentary term to counter the racist and simplistic narrative of the far right. The first step is our annual anti-racist convention in June. We expect European Commission presidential candidates to attend and discuss directly with communities how to design a roadmap to address hatred in Europe.
Sarah Isal is chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)