The European Parliament is usually perceived as a rather dull bureaucratic place. Not anymore. The sudden rise of the far right in the European Parliament elections — 24 seats gained by the Front National in France, 3 seats for the violent and anti-Semitic Greek Golden Dawn Party, 3 to the Anti-Semitic Hungarian Jobbik Party and the first neo-Nazi MEP from Germany – has sent alarm bells ringing across the EU and much further afield. Against the backdrop of the abhorrent murders that took place in Brussels outside the Jewish Museum, it would be easy to despair.
But let us put this into some context. It is important to remember that the rise of the far right was not unexpected. The results simply confirmed what the opinion polls had been predicting for months.
In fact, one of the major surprises of the elections wasn’t the success of the far right, but the partial failure of the Dutch Freedom Party in the Netherlands. Geert Wilders, their flamboyant leader, was tipped as leading the charge of far right and Eurosceptic parties in the Parliament, but he failed to come second as predicted and only won 3 seats, coming 3rd overall.
Importantly too, the far right are not a unified bloc. To treat them as a harmonious, unified and uniform grouping is a mistake. The rise of all these parties should of course be treated with caution and this is not an argument to say that there is no cause for concern, it is rather an argument for a calm strategic approach rather than sensationalist knee-jerking.
Within the likely far-right bloc there are different factions that will invariably cause division within their ranks. Golden Dawn, Jobbik and the German NPD can roughly, although not completely, be placed in a similar group. Each have a racially motivated party, more or less based on Nazi ideology and an authoritarian party structure defined by racism, anti-Semitism and violence.
They pose a direct threat to Jewish communities domestically and to European unity in general. Their views on Israel like their views on minorities in Europe can be summed up in one word: hostile. But these three groups combined however make up only seven seats in the new parliament, and will largely be shunned, isolated and unable to form any larger alliance.
Next you have the Dutch Freedom Party and the French Front National under the leadership of Marine Le Pen. The Front National has a history steeped in anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and division, much of it distilled under the leadership of Jean Marie Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen has made an attempt in recent years to rid the party of these elements and also cast off the reputation, fostered by her father, that the National Front was a refuge for Nazi sympathisers, Holocaust deniers and racist individuals.
Yet this distancing from the past has not been as successful as Marine Le Pen would have hoped for — her father remains the honorary president of the party after all — and her party is still beset with such accusations. Reputations stick.
During the campaign Le Pen found an ally in Geert Wilders and his Dutch Freedom Party. At press conferences and Party events, Wilders playing the role of chaperone, tried to bring together the Front National and UK’s UKIP in political matrimony. It didn’t work. Wilders came third in the Netherlands and his strength and influence has been greatly diminished.
Wilders, like Le Pen, also made efforts to divorce himself from the traditional far right narrative, by displaying his ‘pro-Israel’ credentials and background.
It is here that the cracks start to appear. Wilders’ own ‘pro-Israeli’ sentiments sit badly with the Front National’s reputation with the French Jewish community, and coupled with a poor voting record when it comes to initiatives bringing Israel and Europe closer together, translates to an inconsistent, poorly defined policy towards the Middle East.
Both the Front National and the Dutch Freedom Party have made statements or given indications that they are not likely to enter into any coalition with the likes of the Golden Dawn and Jobbik.
If we take these statements at face value, this leaves a likely coalition of around 44 MEPs, formed of the Front National, Dutch Freedom Party and a couple of the smaller right wing groups. A force of note, but not sufficiently strong, nor arguably disciplined enough to hold a consistent line on all issues during key votes.
This brings the focus round to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Originally founded as a protest party against the mainstream groups and the European Union, UKIP had unprecedented success in the latest elections.
Their ideology is one steeped in anti-European and anti-immigration rhetoric, leading to accusations of racism within the party and with its leadership. Yet despite all this, Nigel Farage has described the Front National in France as having some ‘toxic baggage’ which means that he will refuse to enter into a coalition with them.
The sincerity of Mr. Farage’s allegation that Le Pen’s party is too anti-Semitic and racist for him raises a few eyebrows. Whether his distance from a union with the Front National is more a political strategy to increase his own influence in Parliament, remains of secondary importance to the fact that it is refusing to enter into a coalition to date.
On Israel, Mr. Farage’s party has not taken a consistent line. Yet the issue affecting UKIP will not be one of ideological antagonism, but its lack of attendance on European votes caused by a near wholesale rejection of the European project. Out of all ‘roll call’ votes called between 2009-2014, Nigel Farage has attended only 42%. On the key vote to bring in the European-Israel Pharmaceutical agreement (ACAA), Farage did not vote, some of his MEPs voted in favour but most did not vote or abstained. I think we can safely predict the same inconsistency from the UKIP MEPs in the incoming parliament.
As I said at the beginning, the European Friends of Israel does not seek to diminish the seismic effect nor the threat posed by the far right in the European Parliament, nor do we overlook the threat that these groups can and often do pose to minorities across Europe. But we do question the importance and reach that such groups have and can successfully wield at a pan European level.
With a deeply frayed ideological tapestry and their inexperience in political unity and coalition building, the promised far right bloc may not actually be the unified element it was estimated to be.