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Fringe parties tilting Europe left and right
Extremists exploit economic turmoil, affect mainstream politics
BERLIN — Elections across Europe this spring are giving former fringe political parties a boost, as voter anger in Greece, Germany and France translates into bigger gains for the far left and far right.
“What these populist extremists in the left and the right try to exploit is a lack of community, cohesion and [sense of] belonging in people,” said Henning Meyer, a political scientist at the London School of Economics.
Economic turmoil in Europe is bringing political upheaval in its wake, analysts say.
The significant turnout for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front in the first round of the French presidential election April 22 has been read as a protest against French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s complicity in the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Ms. Le Pen won about 18 percent on a platform of scrapping the euro currency and quashing “Islamization” in France.
Meanwhile, the anti-European Union far left won about 11 percent of the French vote.
In Greece, three extreme right-wing parties are predicted to win as much as 15 percent of the national vote Sunday as reaction to growing poverty and unemployment blamed on severe austerity measures imposed by the EU, analysts say.
The Golden Dawn Party, with a distinct neo-Nazi agenda, has become synonymous with anti-immigration extremism in Greece.
The strident anti-austerity policies of the nationalist Independent Greeks party - formed barely two months ago but already attracting 10 percent of the vote in public opinion polls - illustrates the key source of voters’ disillusion with the major parties.
Analysts say it is not clear whether the rise of these minor parties amounts to a long-term challenge to the political mainstream.
“[It’s] globalization, and the fact that people feel detached from what’s happening [politically and economically],” said Roman Gerodimos, a senior lecturer in international current affairs at Bournemouth University in Britain.
“They feel powerless, and when they feel powerless they tend to rally for the extremist parties.”
The far right has made tremendous political gains in Switzerland and Austria in the past decade.
Support for the single-issue Pirate Party in Germany, which opposes government regulation of the Internet, has jumped in the past year after attracting voters through simple political slogans promoting Internet freedom and political transparency.
The Pirate Party won provincial parliamentary seats for the first time in two German states in the past six months. It is now polling at 14 percent of the national vote.
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