- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

STRASBOURG, France — When France last elected a president, the far right’s Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the world by muscling his way into the runoff against incumbent Jacques Chirac. The outcome seemed to underline rising fears of an ultranationalist resurgence across Europe.

Mr. Le Pen ended up soundly beaten in 2002 and is unlikely to repeat his first-round success in a presidential election on Sunday. But with polls giving him up to 16 percent of the vote, it’s clear his France-first slogans still resonate.

The same issues preoccupying the French — jobs, immigration, integrating a large and restive Muslim minority — have catapulted many of Mr. Le Pen’s views into the mainstream, with leading candidates both left and right co-opting elements of his ideas.

It’s a phenomenon seen across Europe: Deep anxieties over security and unemployment have fed a sharp shift to the right, forcing mainstream politicians to embrace policies that just a few years ago would have seemed the exclusive terrain of ultranationalist forces.

These policies mainly aim to reassert the primacy of the home culture with language requirements, citizenship tests and tougher criteria for prospective immigrants.

In the Netherlands, a powerful nationalist movement sprang up around charismatic Pim Fortuyn and won a place in the coalition, only to fall apart after Mr. Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002. But his ideas live on in the citizenship tests and deportations of asylum-seekers, which are now Dutch policy.

In October, Austria’s two rightist parties won more than 15 percent of the vote — far short of the stunning 26.9 percent that firebrand Joerg Haider received in 1999 but enough to trouble the moderate majority.

The anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, formed only 12 years ago, is the third-largest faction in Denmark’s parliament. Far-right parties also made electoral strides last year in Sweden and Belgium.

In Germany, far-right parties remain a fringe movement, but hold seats on three regional legislatures in the formerly Communist east. Officials say crimes by far-right groups and attacks against foreigners rose 16 percent last year.

Tony Blair, Britain’s center-left prime minister, campaigned two years ago on the slogan “Your country’s borders protected,” while his conservative rivals proposed HIV and tuberculosis tests for immigrants. A fringe nationalist party scored well in local elections in May.

The hard right does not appear to be drastically bleeding supporters as the center co-opts its agenda. On the contrary, many nationalist groups appear to be enjoying a resurgence.

In France, 78-year-old Mr. Le Pen is gloating as front-runners Nicolas Sarkozy on the right and Segolene Royal on the left hoist two of his pet issues — immigration and national identity — to center stage.

Thirty percent of respondents in a poll by TNS Sofres published in December said they agreed with Mr. Le Pen’s positions — the highest figure since 1996.

While neither Mr. Sarkozy nor Miss Royal echo his call for zero immigration, Mr. Sarkozy says he wants to exert more control over it by creating a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. He also has used a variation on Mr. Le Pen’s longtime catch phrase, “France: Love it or leave it.”

Miss Royal, polling second, calls for all French to keep a national flag in the home and asks supporters to sing the national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” at her rallies.

Mr. Le Pen’s National Front today claims 75,000 members, and spokesman Thibaut de la Tocnay says membership shot up by several thousand after the November 2005 riots in immigrant-heavy suburbs of Paris.

In many European countries, support for the hard right is blamed on voters’ perception of politics as a tweedledum-and-tweedledee affair that perpetuates moderate governments unwilling to tackle difficult issues head-on.

That sentiment partially accounts for Mr. Le Pen’s enduring appeal.

His call for France to pull out of the European Union and its common currency, the euro, appears unworkable, but finds sympathy among those who think the country’s immersion into the 27-nation bloc has diminished it.

But he has also been convicted of racist and anti-Semitic utterances.

In the end, Mr. Le Pen’s 2002 triumph turned into humiliation. Appalled at the prospect of a President Le Pen, voters flocked en masse to Mr. Chirac in the second round, giving him a record 82 percent of the vote.

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