Populist movements across Europe are gaining traction. On May 22 Europeans will find out just how much traction has been gained. Here you get a a good read out on the shocking emergence of powerful dissident parties, including France’s Front National (FN) led by Marine Le Pen.
Entering the central courtyard of the European parliament in Strasbourg, the visitor is surrounded by a collection of giant larger-than-life posters from which smiling faces gaze out. One striking, bohemian-looking couple catch the eye. “On 22 May,” reads the legend above their black fedora hats, “Jens and Sedsel will choose who’s in charge in Europe. And you?” Below their feet is the slogan: “European elections 22 May 2014. Act. React. Impact.”
Perhaps the Strasbourg assembly should be careful what it wishes for. Jens and Sedsel may be signed up to the programme. But across the continent, those who may not have the best interests of the European Union at heart are marching on the parliament, from both the right and left of the political spectrum. The insurgents are certainly looking to “act, react and impact”, but not in the way that the designers of the Strasbourg posters may have hoped.
In Britain, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, pint in hand, has already pulled British politics to a place close to the EU exit door. But euroscepticism is no longer a curiosity of these islands. Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National, has even grander designs than Farage. Le Pen plans to use the forthcoming elections to form an alliance dedicated to wrecking the “monster in Brussels” from within. Her party is on course to top the polls in France.
In Italy, an ex-comic, Beppe Grillo, whose anti-establishment shtick has its origins in the anarchic left, ridicules the recent succession of Italian prime ministers who have “become the slaves of financial interests and economic decisions taken elsewhere”. The Five-Star movement which he founded in 2007 is second in Italy’s polls, predicted to win 25% of the vote. The Greek socialists of Syriza are riding high from Athens to Alexandroupoli on the back of a promise to roll back crushing EU-imposed debt repayments.
Even in the land of Borgen, where consensus politics provided an unlikely template for cult television viewing, rebellion is in the air. The Danish People’s party – anti-EU, anti-multiculturalism and anti-immigration – is pledging to “assert Denmark’s independence and to guarantee the freedom of the Danish people in their own country”. The DPP, which like Ukip has profited from popular resentment at the extension of welfare benefits to immigrant workers, sits in first place in the polls, also with a share of 25%. In the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and across much of eastern Europe, it is a similar story.