Europe is bracing for a lurch toward populist, anti-European
parties of the right this weekend as the world's biggest
transnational elections unfold across 27 countries.
Fringe parties hostile to immigration, foreigners, and the
European Union (EU) in general were poised to score well in the
first two countries to vote in European parliamentary elections,
Britain and Holland, according to exit polls and expert projections.
Geert Wilders, a populist who despises Islam, opposes
immigration, and wants the European Parliament abolished, was given
more than 15 percent of the vote in the Netherlands and just one
seat less than the ruling Christian Democrats, according to an exit
In Britain, two right-wing parties opposed to the EU - the UK
Independence Party and the British National Party - were predicted
to get one-fifth of all votes, according to the predict09.eu website
compiled by leading political scientists.
"It's clear from the Netherlands that the populist right is going
to do well," says Wyn Grant, a politics professor at Warwick
University in Central England. "It's a trend across Europe, and it's
not surprising in a recession," he adds.
Most EU countries are deep in recession and this week
unemployment figured showed almost one in 10 Europeans were jobless.
Sara Hagemann, a Danish analyst with the Brussels-based European
Policy Centre adds that extreme parties would get a much higher
proportion of seats than in national elections. "Voters who turn out
[in European elections] often have quite strong opinions about the
EU," she says.
Though elections to the European Parliament habitually throw up a
protest vote, this time around they could prove fatal to governments
in at least two countries if the ruling elite perform as badly as
predicted. Hungary's ruling socialists are so unpopular that a bad
result could see their government fall apart.
But no leader is more vulnerable than Britain's Gordon Brown, who
has seen support ebb not just from his Labour Party voters but from
his own ministers. The Labour government, humiliated by revelations
of mercenary expense claims by legislators, may struggle to stay
afloat much longer if overall results are as poor as some predict.
On Friday, Brown was forced to reshuffle his remaining ministers
after four big names quit in 72 hours. A terrible result when voting
tallies are announced on Sunday evening could be the final straw,
"The results are going to be very bad for Labour; the question
is, will they be disastrous," says Professor Grant. "If he's got 20
percent of vote, though bad, that will be seen as just enough. The
problem is if he went as low as 16 percent," which could leave
Labour in fourth place and Brown's mandate looking anachronistic.
A giant election, but does anybody care?
The twice-a-decade European Parliamentary vote is sometimes
grandiosely billed as the world's biggest multinational elections.
This time, around 375 million people are eligible to cast ballots in
27 countries, sending 736 legislators to Brussels. …