“Let me tell you who my rival is. It does not bear a name or have a face; it’s the finance industry.” Tough talk, from France’s leading presidential candidate, the Socialist Francois Hollande.
Can you imagine Ed Milliband making such a provocative statement? Yet Hollande is hardly the most extreme of his fellow presidential hopefuls. Little thought is being spared for the feelings of the financiers of France’s debt, it appears. Short but suave President Sarkozy looks like he might be getting a run for his money in the upcoming elections perhaps even more surprisingly, the extreme left and right are polling more strongly than ever.
Only just over half of the French electorate voted for one of the two main parties in the first round of the French presidential elections, with the smaller Nationalist Front and Front de Gauche netting around 18% and 11% respectively. To give you an idea of how lefty the Front de Gauche is, I’ll just mention their headline tax initiative: a 100% tax on income over €500k. The National Front’s name alone should clue you in to their brand of extremism. Their leader Marine Le Pen gave a predictably bombastic speech after their remarkably buoyant share of the vote.
The success of extremist parties is not isolated to France; last week,the extreme right Freedom Party collapsed the Dutch government. Anti-islamic, anti-immigration and plain pissed off, the European extreme right has been emboldened by the failing economies of eurozone nations. The ever increasing ranks of the unemployed are the basis for their growing support. Far-right party names can be deceiving; the Sweden Democrats, for example, only renounced outright Nazism in 1999. They won their first parliamentary seats in 2010. Last year the previously unheard of True Finns won a close third place in Finland’s general election. Some of the most successful right-wing extremists are the Danish People’s Party, which won 12% of the vote in Den-mark’s last general election. Across Europe, it seems, the extreme right is gaining ground. Why? The immigrants, it seems, are stealing our jobs. Wait, no – the European Union is stealing our jobs! Or, perhaps, its the mainstream party leaders stealing our jobs? The jobs have to be going somewhere.We can’t just have lost them!
The truth is, unemployment rates are ferocious, and they’re making people more desperate. Whether the extreme right is here to stay, or whether this is only another fleeting moment of xenophobic panic, is hard to say. Marine Le Pen’s National Front was polling even more strongly last year, and her father led the same party to second place in the 2002 French elections, beating the then despondent Socialist Party. Either way, the next round of elections are likely to see a routing of incumbents across Europe as austerity bites. The consensus for reigning in state spending is breaking down. With any luck it will be in time to save the European economy, because, as the rise of the extreme right shows, one thing is certain: unemployment sucks.