MARINE LE PEN
More than 6 million French voters gave Le Pen’s National Front (FN) their vote in the first round of regional elections held Dec. 6, less than a month after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. The FN was France’s biggest winner in those polls, coming first in seven of the 13 regions. “The people have spoken, and France is again holding its head high,” Le Pen told supporters as the results came in.
Spooked by the scale of the FN’s success, moderate voters turned out in force to ensure the far-right was defeated in the second round. It worked: the FN ended up winning nowhere, a setback that denies Le Pen any regional power base from which to launch an assault on presidential elections scheduled for 2017.
Yet Le Pen won’t go away. Her supporters denounced a stitch-up between the traditional parties. “They have sabotaged democracy, but we will redouble our efforts,” declared Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the leader’s niece and a youthful candidate who came close to winning the Riviera region in the south.
Marine Le Pen is famously anti-immigration, but even she thinks Trump went a bit too far with his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” she told a TV interviewer earlier in December. Not that she’s afraid of making controversial statements on migrants: Her campaign team last month put out a statement calling for the “eradication of bacterial immigration,” claiming that migration was causing an “alarming presence of contagious diseases.”
Hungary’s Fidesz party sits in the European Parliament with mainstream center-right parties like those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. But it whips up alarmist language over Muslim migrants. “If you allow thousands or millions of unidentified persons into your house, the risk of … terrorism will significantly increase,” he said in a recent interview with Politico, adding that “all the terrorists are migrants.”
Orban says refugees represent a threat to Christian Europe and he built a massive fence along Hungary’s border to keep them out. He denounces liberal democracy, praises Putin, and accused Merkel of “moral imperialism” for seeking a more welcoming European response to refugees.
Since his election in 2010, Orban has been accused of setting up an authoritarian state, jiggling with electoral laws, placing cronies in the judiciary and media, and squeezing funding for critical groups. Orban was reelected in 2014 with more than double the combined vote of the next two candidates.
Mainstream politicians are critical of Orban, but they also know the alternative is even less attractive — Hungary’s second-largest party is Jobbik, a far-right group so extreme even the likes of Le Pen refuse to work with it.
The leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) is celebrating his award earlier this month as “Politician of the Year” by viewers of a popular TV current affairs program — the third time he’s picked up the title.
Wilders is a Donald Trump fan. “I hope @realDonaldTrump will be the next US President. Good for America, good for Europe. We need brave leaders,” he tweeted on the night Trump made his call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.
Wilders is fiercely anti-Islam and has surged in opinion polls this year thanks to the refugee crisis and the attacks in Paris. All polls since September put the PVV in front with over 30 percent of the vote, double its score in the last elections held in 2012. Wilders is looking like a prime contender for the next parliamentary election, due by March 2017.
He says the refugee crisis is “an Islamic invasion,” warning of “masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing Allahu Akbar across Europe.”
Earlier this month he caused outrage in Turkey — which is a NATO ally just like the Netherlands — in a video claiming Islam is incompatible with human rights and democracy. “You are no Europeans and you will never be. An Islamic state like Turkey does not belong to Europe,” he said in the video, which ran in English with Turkish subtitles. “We do not want more but less Islam. So Turkey, stay away from us. You are not welcome here.”
In post-Silvio Berlusconi Italy, bearded Salivni is a rising star. His Northern League party made significant gains in regional elections this year and has consolidated its role as the leading force on the right, ahead of the Let’s Go Italy Party of former Prime Minister Berlusconi.
Salvini has succeeded in building support by putting his party’s traditional demands for secession for Italy’s wealthier northern regions on the back burner while he focuses on voters’ refugee worries.
He says the Italian navy should drive back the refugee “invasion.” He warns of refugees bringing in disease and added that those with scabies should give “a big hug” to the country’s center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Once he suggested Italians should renounce their nationality and then apply for refugee status so they could be paid benefits.
The politician whose stunts have included posing naked on a magazine cover even took on Pope Francis. “We don’t need to be forgiven … how many refugees has the Vatican taken in,” he told his party radio in response to Francis’ call for forgiveness for those “who shut the door on refugees.”
The conservative nationalist government that swept into power in Poland in October hasn’t taken long to raise alarm bells in much of Europe.
“What is happening in Poland is dramatic and has the character of a coup d’etat,” said Martin Schultz, speaker of the European Parliament. Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, who is serving as head of the EU Ministerial Council, warned basic European values were at risk of being “upended” in Warsaw.
Kaczynski is not in the government, but is the driving force behind the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which has triggered concern by seeking to increase its influence over the constitutional court, civil service, intelligence agencies and the media since taking office three months ago.
The new Polish authorities are impressed with the way Orban runs Hungary — including his attitude toward refugees. Kaczynski is another who fears those fleeing war in Syria are a threat to Europe’s health. “Various parasites, protozoa that are common and are not dangerous in the bodies of these people, may be dangerous here,” he said on the campaign trail in October.
Poland has been a rare European economic success story in recent years. It’s the only EU member that avoided dropping into recession after the financial crisis of 2008. Yet growth was uneven and conservative rural areas often felt left out, fueling discontent with the center-right, pro-EU forces that had run the country since 2007.
The new government is pushing for a tougher NATO line on Moscow. Kaczynski’s brother Lech was killed in 2010, when he was Poland’s president, in a plane crash over Russia. Many PiS supporters suspect Putin had a hand in the accident.