- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

LONDON Fear of crime and Third World immigration, combined with voter apathy, are sapping the power of the leftist parties that have dominated European politics for the past half-century.

The rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France is only one manifestation of a major shift to the right in a string of European nations including Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland and, to a lesser extent, Britain, that has accelerated since the start of the 21st century.

Regardless of how Mr. Le Pen fares in his two-man race for the presidency May 5, there is likely more to come from the rightist movement.

In Austria, for instance, Joerg Haider, who once described Adolf Hitler's employment policies as "orderly," now says he intends to run for leadership of his nation next year. And in Germany, the "Third Way" administration of Gerhardt Schroeder is facing a tough challenge from the center-right in national elections later this year.

Leftist, socialist-oriented governments have held sway over much of Europe since the end of World War II. Of the forces now gathering to erode their strength, not the least is immigration legal and illegal, including thousands of asylum seekers and a rise in crime that many believe is its consequence.

Much of Mr. Le Pen's success in the first round of the French vote was attributed to his pledge to immediately halt emigration to France, whose population of 59 million includes 700,000 Jews and 4 million Muslims.

Mr. Haider's populist Freedom Party, which already is a coalition partner with Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's ruling conservatives, has said it would stop all immigration, regardless of country of origin. Mr. Schuessel's government faces an election by October 2003, and Mr. Haider wants to be Austria's next chancellor.

In Denmark, the free-market Venstre (Liberal) Party gained power in November elections on a platform described by one political analyst as "proposing the most draconian curbs on immigration and asylum abuse practiced anywhere in the European Union."

In Switzerland, Christophe Blocher of the right-wing People's Party won 23 percent of the vote on a similar platform.

In the Netherlands, long noted for its liberal tendencies on issues from drugs to sex, the colorful and controversial Pim Fortuyn is basing his campaign on an anti-immigration platform, and pollsters forecast he will score well with voters in upcoming elections.

A closely related issue centers on the Continent's Muslim population, which has risen to 16 million from 8 million over the past decade, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Giacomo Biffi of Bologna, Italy, said recently that Europe was degenerating into a "culture of nothing, that would be unable to drive back the ideological assault of Islam."

Fury over what is seen as the British government's failure to halt illegal immigration from the Continent through the rail tunnel under the English Channel, plus growing conflicts between white and Asian youths in several cities and towns, is seen as bolstering the hopes of the hard-line British National Party in local elections May 2.

The BNP, which strongly opposes immigration and whose leaders have demanded that blacks and others "be sent back to where they came from," is fielding 68 candidates, many of them in hotbeds of racial tension including the cities of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. If it wins one seat, it will be considered in many quarters a victory for extremism.

Many analysts also see voter apathy as a factor in the measured decline in the influence of the largely leftist ruling elite of Europe. That apathy helped catapult Mr. Le Pen into the second round of the French election. It could similarly help Mr. Haider and may even give Britain's BNP a taste of power.

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