- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

TENSIONS RISING

Hungary’s new foreign minister fears that the victories of extremist political parties in the European elections signal frustration among some voters in countries that have weak democracies or large foreign populations.

“Because of underdeveloped democracies and lack of sovereignty in the past, tensions are growing,” Peter Balazs told the European Institute in Washington on Wednesday.

Parties that oppose immigration, especially from Muslim countries, or hold strong nationalist views made gains in European Parliament elections in Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia. Conservative and social democratic parties still hold the majority in the 736-seat Parliament.

Mr. Balazs cited “unstable political structures,” economic decline and extremist movements as “warning signs” in many countries that recently joined the 27-member European Union.

“The main danger is nationalism — outdated nationalism — going back to the slogans of the 19th century or bad times of the 20th century,” he said.

Some of the new EU members suffer from a lack of historical nationhood, he added, referring to some former communist nations and countries with borders that have changed radically over the years.

“Many of these nations were reborn with no sovereign, independent status for centuries,” Mr. Balazs said. “Hungary has seven neighbors with Austria and Romania mostly unchanged, but others have changed names, shapes and borders.”

Mr. Balazs, who was appointed to his position in April, is making his first visit to Washington as foreign minister. He met Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and had other meetings scheduled with leaders of the congressional Hungarian caucus.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

The election of new extremist members to the European Parliament sent shock waves across that Continent, but they are unlikely to prove much of a threat because many of them dislike each other, a top German political analyst said Wednesday.

Slovak nationalists can’t stand Hungarians, who, themselves, dislike the Slovaks, and the Romanians also detest the Hungarians, said Reinhard Schlinkert of the dimap political research firm.

“These parties have a lot of work to do,” he told the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Washington.

Mr. Schlinkert noted that the voter turnout of 43 percent across Europe was also low and not an accurate reflection of the appeal of the extremist parties. Turnouts for European Parliament elections in the past have been as high as 62 percent.

“Most moderate people did not vote,” he added.

However, Mr. Schlinkert recognized the motives that drove many Europeans to support those parties, pointing to Islamic immigration in countries such as the Netherlands, where the Freedom Party won 17 percent of the vote and four of the country’s 25 seats in the European Parliament.

“There is a strong feeling among quite a lot of people that they have to take strong measures to stay Dutch,” he said.

Mr. Schlinker cited apathy toward politics and disillusionment that national leaders failed to prevent the economic crisis as two motives for the low turnout.

“People are disoriented. They can’t believe anything,” he said. “They found out that politicians didn’t solve their problems. … There is no big trust in government.”

Jurgen D. Wickert of the foundation’s Brussels office acknowledged that the elections are convoluted with 375 million eligible voters selecting 736 members of Parliament from the 27 nations of the European Union.

“It is a complicated matter, but I think we have no alternative,” he said.

&#8226 Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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