The pan-European outfit floated recently by the political parties of the far-right fringe may only stand a distant chance of capturing the popular imagination in the European Union. However, the potential for long-term damage from the ultra-nationalist and majoritarian ideology represented by these forces, feeding on the xenophobic and anti-immigrant constituency in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, should not be underestimated. The failure of the extreme right parties to qualify as an official grouping in the EU Parliament after the June polls provides the background to the formation of the European Alliance of National Movements, led by the first-time entrant to the legislature, the British National Party (BNP). Whereas a formal political bloc within Parliament is entitled to positions in influential committees shaping policy, a pan-European body such as the latest alliance is eligible for substantial public funds. If the BNP wears on its sleeves its brazenly racist “only whites” membership policy, in clear contravention of the EU and many national anti-discrimination laws, the anti-federalist platform of the new alliance also counts among its champions the Holocaust denier Jean Marie Le Pen of the French National Front, besides the Italian and Hungarian parties that oppose abortion and gay rights.
It is ironic that a narrow, sectarian, and divisive agenda, disguised as a defence of national identity and sovereignty, should be sought to be advanced through a transnational front, and one that is staunch in its opposition to closer European integration. The contradictions inherent in such a coalition of convenience stood exposed as the short-lived far-right caucus in the previous Parliament collapsed when certain highly provocative remarks were directed against the Romanian nationals as a whole in the context of the influx of the Roma minorities into Italy. The lessons in this for mainstream political parties in different member states are significant. There is need to refrain from pandering to populist sentiment, or indulging in political one-upmanship in the face of domestic pressures and instead engage the genuine concerns of citizens over the real implications of greater integration. The recent controversy over the appearance of the BNP leader on prime time show highlights the difficulties of foreclosing an arena of public debate for elected representatives, quite apart from the arguments over the appropriateness of such means to counter any group, including the far-right, in a democracy.