Populism Has Not ‘Peaked’ in Europe. The Fight Continues.

Europe

Dark clouds have been hovering over Europeans who believe in an integrated, tolerant and open Continent. First came Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June, followed by Donald J. Trump’s election. Nationalists and right-wing populists seemed to be on the march. And Europhiles looked nervously ahead to a string of elections in 2017, any one of which could herald the moment when the European project began to unravel for good.

These people might be forgiven for savoring the feeling of respite recently.

The first round of France’s presidential election, on April 23, put the passionately pro-European Union independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron, ahead of Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. Polls now heavily favor Mr. Macron to beat Ms. Le Pen in the second round on Sunday. That election followed one in the Netherlands in March in which the openly Islamophobic and fervently Euroskeptic candidate, Geert Wilders, did worse than expected. And in Austria in December, the far right’s Norbert Hofer narrowly lost the presidential election to Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader.

In light of all this, many now claim that right-wing populism has peaked, and the European Union has walked back from the brink of self-destruction. But while there are many positive lessons to be drawn from the recent elections, triumphalism, which leads to complacency, would be dangerous and misplaced.

Something hasn’t peaked until it has started to decline — and to date the far right has only been ascendant. Ms. Le Pen’s National Front added around 1.2 million votes to its first-round result in 2012. Mr. Wilders’s Freedom Party now has 20 seats in the Dutch Parliament, a gain of five from 2012. The previous candidate from Mr. Hofer’s party received about 15 percent in the last presidential poll in 2010, while Mr. Hofer topped the vote in the first round and got 46 percent in the run off.

And the far right’s influence isn’t felt only at the voting booth. Derogatory language once unthinkable in a union shaped by its experiences during World War II are now commonplace. The second biggest party in the Netherlands is led by a man who has called people of Moroccan origin “scum.” Violent attacks by far-right extremists are on the rise. Germany reported nearly 10 hate crimes a day against migrants and refugees in 2016. Mayors across the Continent are under police protection because of threats from the extreme right. (And anyone under the illusion that the values of human rights, tolerance and dignity for all — enshrined in European Union treaties — can be taken for granted should visit the camps in Greece where around 62,000 refugees are trapped, many of them in dire conditions.)

But there is also plenty to celebrate for people who believe that Europe will be safer and more prosperous if countries work together and keep their doors open to the world, rather than retreat into nationalism and isolationism. And there are lessons to be learned. The biggest winners have been those leaders who embraced liberal, pro-European Union values with the same passion and emotion as the populists. Meanwhile, the traditional mainstream parties that have responded by shifting their own rhetoric toward the right have fared less well.

In the Netherlands, the Green Left party, led by the charismatic Jesse Klaver, openly embraced the Dutch tradition of tolerance and diversity with the same fervor that Mr. Wilders applied to his hatred of Muslims. Consequently, the party soared from four seats to 14. The party of the incumbent prime minister, Mark Rutte, on the other hand, lost eight seats after he made last-minute attempts to woo Wilders voters with an open letter saying that migrants who don’t integrate should leave the country.

In France, Mr. Macron matched Ms. Le Pen’s strident Euroskepticism and anti-refugee language with an unashamed passion for continental unity and multiculturalism. He praised Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who he said “saved” Europeans’ “collective dignity” when she opened her country’s doors to those fleeing persecution. Speaking of the European Union, he declared that “we are Europe; we are Brussels.” It looks set to pay off when French voters return to the polls on Sunday.

But this kind of language was utterly absent from the Remain campaign before the Brexit referendum, where leaders were too embarrassed or fearful to show such emotional support for the European Union and instead tried to make their case using facts and figures.

Europe’s next crucial election will be held in Germany in September. The far-right Alternative for Germany is forecast to get its first seats in Parliament, riding on a wave of hostility to migrants. Ms. Merkel has responded by watering down some of her open-door policies, and has backed a partial ban on the facial veil. The good news is that Ms. Merkel’s biggest challenger is not from the right, but a Social Democrat: Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament who is even more pro-European Union and pro-refugee than she is.

In all these elections, there are many domestic concerns affecting the outcome and they cannot be seen solely through the lens of support for the European Union or immigration policy. But there is one overarching message: You win by matching the emotions of the nationalists, not by pandering to them.

The New York Times

Netherlands Polls Open in Test of Nationalist Sentiment

Netherlands

Dutch people went to polls on Wednesday in elections that will test nationalist sentiment that has been highlighted by a dispute with Turkey that has simmered in recent days.

The elections are the first of three this year in the European Union where anti-immigrant parties are seeking breakthroughs.

The center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, 50, is vying with the PVV (Party for Freedom) of anti-Islam and anti-EU firebrand Geert Wilders, 53, to form the biggest party in parliament.

As many as 13 million voters began casting ballots at polling stations across the country that will close at 9:00 p.m.

“I am voting for Wilders. I hope he can make a change to make the Netherlands better,” said Wendy de Graaf, who was dropping her children off at school in The Hague. “I don’t agree with everything he says…but I feel that immigration is a problem.”

Wilders, who has vowed to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands, has virtually no chance of forming a government given that all the leading parties have ruled out working with him, but a PVV win would still send shockwave across Europe.

The vote is the first gauge of anti-establishment sentiment in the European Union and the bloc’s chances of survival after the surprise victory of EU-skeptic Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s 2016 vote to exit the union.

France chooses its next president, with far-right Marine Le Pen set to make the second-round run-off in May, while in September right-wing euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany, which has attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, will probably win its first lower house seats.

In the Netherlands, late opinion polls indicated a three percentage point lead for Rutte’s party over Wilders’, although these did not fully take into account a rupture of diplomatic relations with Ankara after the Dutch banned Turkish ministers from addressing rallies of overseas Turks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Dutch of behaving like Nazis. Early indications are that the dispute may have helped both.

In a final debate Tuesday night, Wilders clashed with Lodewijk Asscher, whose Labor party stands to lose two-thirds of its seats in its worst defeat ever on current polling. Asscher defended the rights of law-abiding Muslims to not be treated as second-class citizens or insulted for wearing headscarves.

“The Netherlands belongs to all of us, everyone who does their best” Asscher told Wilders, to applause from onlookers. Wilders shot back that Labor policies permitting immigration had cost the country “buckets of money”, with high rates of unemployment and criminality among immigrants.

Wilders voted in a primary school in The Hague, mobbed by television cameras, just after final opinion polls showed he was slipping behind Rutte.

“Whatever the outcome of the election today the genie will not go back into the bottle. And this patriotic revolution, whether today or tomorrow, will stay,” Wilders said.

“I see this rightwing populist making gains and I will not live in such a world,” said Esther Zand, 52, who voted in the same school for Labor and against Wilders.

“He’s a rather irritating gentleman,” she added.

While traditional Labor appears to be sinking this year, the ecologist left-wing GroenLinks and its charismatic young leader Jesse Klaver could win 16 to 18 seats.

“I hope GroenLinks will win. Jesse Klaver is a breath of fresh air. To me the current cabinet has not done enough for the environment,” said lawyer Marloes van Heugten.

Unlike the US or French presidential elections, there will be no outright Dutch winner, with up to 15 parties having a realistic chance of winning a seat in parliament and none set to gain even 20 percent of the vote.

Experts predict a coalition-building process that will take months once the final tally is known.

Dutch Mosques Lock Their Doors During Prayer Times After Canada Attack

Four of the largest mosques in the Netherlands yesterday announced that they would lock their doors during prayer times after six people were killed in an attack on a mosque in the Canadian province of Quebec.

In a statement, the four mosques that include Masjid Al-Azraq in Amsterdam, Masid Al-Sunnah in the Hague, Masjid Al-Salam in Rotterdam and Masjid of Omar Al-Faruq in Utrecht said “We feel that we have to lock the doors of the mosque when prayers are taking place”. Many surveillance cameras have also been set up in the Al-Azraq mosque which is located in the south-western outskirts of the Dutch capital.

Thousands of worshippers take part in the prayers that are held in the four mosques daily. Saeed Bouhro, from the Dutch – Moroccan Council of Mosques told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the “barbaric acts such as the Quebec attack contribute to increasing the global hatred of Muslims”. He continued by saying that “the mosque is an open building that should be available at all times throughout the day for anyone looking for peace and tranquillity…But we must be cautious of such terrorist attacks. It is unfortunate that we are forced to take these strict safety procedures”. He also pointed out that the mosque leaders are in close contact with the Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism.

The Netherlands is preparing for parliamentary elections in March and anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders is leading in opinion polls. Wilders has promised to close all mosques and Islamic schools and ban the Quran if he becomes prime minister.

Dutch Far Right Politician Faces Judiciary for Hate Speech

Brussels- Far-right leader Geert Wilders has gone on trial in the Netherlands on charges of inciting discrimination and hatred of Moroccans. At the same time, the Dutch government has announced that Sheikh Alami Abu Hamza, who will be deported by the Belgian authorities, will face severe surveillance once he comes back to the Netherlands.

The General-Secretary of the Freedom party (PVV) tweeted that his country has suffered from a major Moroccan problem and that silence is a coward act. Wilders said 43% of Dutch people want less Moroccans in their country and the sentence issued by the court will change nothing.

The General Prosecution has brought charges against Wilders after he publicly encouraged hatred against Moroccans during a protest in The Hague in March 2014.

The right-winged politician’s behavior raised a remarkable debate and the Dutch police received 6,000 complaints about it. However, Wilders refused to attend the court session and considered it a “political trial” against the freedom of expression.

In a statement read out by one of his lawyers, Wilders announced that he will not apologize because he had done nothing wrong. Wilders has spent his political path in combating what he considers the “spread of Islam” in the Dutch society.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Security and Justice in the Netherlands announced that it cannot prevent Imam Sheikh Alami from returning to Dutch territories because he holds the Dutch nationality. However, in case the Sheikh would be involved in any hate speech, the necessary procedures would be taken against him.

Sheikh Alami’s sons Hamza,17, caused a heavy debate in Verviers in August after sharing a video in which he calls for killing Christians. Back then, the concerned authorities decided to arrest the teenager for three months in one of the country’s boarding schools.

Moroccan Chairman Elected for Dutch Parliament

Moroccan Chairman Elected for Dutch Parliament
Moroccan Chairman Elected for Dutch Parliament

After four rounds of voting, Moroccan-Dutch Khadija Arib of the Labor Party came out as the winner with 83 of the 134 valid votes and became new chairwoman of the House of Representatives.

Her appointment followed the resignation of Anouchka van Miltenburg, who stepped down in December over the Teeven drug dealer agreement.

The Moroccan-Dutch, 55, who has been a member of parliament since 1998, will head the House of Representatives until March next year, when parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place.

However, she is not the first Moroccan national to achieve a respectable political position in the Netherlands as Ahmed Aboutaleb has been the Mayor of Rotterdam since 2009.

The Freedom Party Leader, Geert Wilders, described Arib’s election as a ‘black day in history’. The party opposes her appointment because she is a dual Dutch-Moroccan national. He added: “This is the first time a woman with foreign origins occupies this position”.

Khadija Arib came to the Netherlands when she was 15 years old. She is a member of the Dutch Labor Party. Before her political career, she was a civil servant, educator and social worker.As a Member of Parliament, she focused on matters of racism, discrimination control, women abuse, domestic violence and youth care.

It may be noted that, as per the Government statistics, in the population of 17 million people, Holland has 3.80 lakh Morocco origin Arabs.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte congratulated Khadija Arib for winning and said that he is looking forward to work with her.

Far right, Euroskeptics make sweeping gains in European Parliament election

From L to R, top to bottom, chairman of the True Finns party Timo Soini, leader of the German neo-Nazi party NPD Udo Voigt, Greece's Golden Dawn spokesman and parliament member Ilias Kasidiaris, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, leader of right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) party Heinz-Christian Strache,  Chairman of Hungarian far-right parliamentary JOBBIK (Better) party Gabor Vona, Danish Peoples Party's Morten Messerschmidt and France's far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen. (AFP PHOTO)
From L to R, top to bottom, chairman of the True Finns party Timo Soini, leader of the German neo-Nazi party NPD Udo Voigt, Greece’s Golden Dawn spokesman and parliament member Ilias Kasidiaris, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, leader of right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) party Heinz-Christian Strache, Chairman of Hungarian far-right parliamentary JOBBIK (Better) party Gabor Vona, Danish Peoples Party’s Morten Messerschmidt and France’s far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen. (AFP PHOTO)
Brussels, AP—Far-right and Euroskeptic parties made sweeping gains in European Parliament elections Sunday—triggering what one prime minister called a political “earthquake” by those who want to slash the powers of the European Union or abolish it altogether.

Voters in 21 of the EU’s 28 nations went to the polls Sunday, choosing lawmakers for the bloc’s 751-seat legislature. The other seven countries in the bloc had already voted in a sprawling exercise of democracy that began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands.

One of the most significant winners was France’s far-right National Front party, which was the outright winner in France with 26 percent support— or 4.1 million votes.

“The sovereign people have spoken … acclaiming they want to take back the reins of their destiny,” party leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement. She called the results “the first step in a long march to liberty.”

The National Front like other far-right parties across Europe promote anti-immigrant and often anti-Semitic policies.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in an impassioned televised speech, called the National Front win “more than a news alert … it is a shock, an earthquake.”

French President Francois Hollande’s office announced he would hold urgent talks first thing Monday with top government ministers in what French media called a crisis meeting.

All of Europe will have to deal with the fallout, analysts and politicians said.

Pro-European parties “have to take very seriously what is behind the vote,” said Martin Schulz of the Socialist group in parliament.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal caucus in the European Parliament, conceded as much but said even after the vote, two-thirds of the European lawmakers would be “people who are in favor of the European Union.”

Despite the Euroskeptic gains, established pro-EU parties were forecast to remain the biggest groups in the parliament. The conservative caucus, known as EPP, was forecast to win 211 seats, down from 274, but enough to remain the parliament’s biggest group.

The National Front was not the only party benefiting from widespread disillusionment with the EU. Nigel Farage, leader of the fiercely Euroskeptic UKIP party, believed he was on track for a historic victory.

“It does look to me [like] UKIP is going to win this election and yes, that will be an earthquake, because never before in the history of British politics has a party that is seen to be an insurgent party ever topped the polls in a national election,” he said.

“I don’t just want Britain to leave the European Union,” he added. “I want Europe to leave the European Union.”

The first official results announced late Sunday had UKIP at about 30 percent, some 12 percent higher than the last European elections in 2009.

In Denmark, with 95 percent of votes counted, the main government party, the Social Democrats, retained their five seats to remain the biggest party.

But the big winner in the elections was the populist, opposition Danish People’s Party, which won three more seats for a total of four. A year-old party in Germany that wants that country to stop using the euro single currency reportedly won 6.7 percent of the vote.

In Greece, with a quarter of the votes counted, the extreme right Golden Dawn party was third with 9.33 percent.

Doru Frantescu, policy director of VoteWatch Europe, an independent Brussels-based organization, said Europe’s mainstream political parties won enough seats to still muster a majority on issues where they concur.

“The problem comes when the left, the Socialists and EPP will not agree on issues,” Frantescu said.

In the incoming European Parliament, he said, fringe parties will be able to exert more pressure on key topics, ranging from how liberal to make the internal European market for services or the proper mix of energy sources to which clauses should be scrapped in a proposed trade and investment agreement with the US.

In the Netherlands, however, the right-wing Euroskeptic Party for Freedom surprisingly dropped a seat from five to four. Its outspoken leader, Geert Wilders, said in a statement his party looked forward to working with Le Pen in Europe, calling the National Front leader “the next French president.”

In Italy, early projections indicated that the main government party, the Democrats led by Premier Matteo Renzi, had beaten off a challenge by the anti-euro 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo. The center-left Democrats were forecast to win 40 percent, while Grillo’s anti-establishment movement would garner 22.5 percent.

Despite the gains, unity may be hard to find in the fractured Euroskeptic camp.

Le Pen has said she will work with Wilders’ party but Britain’s Farage has ruled out cooperating with both those parties, which have stridently anti-immigrant platforms.

“We won’t work with right-wing populists,” Alternative for Germany’s leader Bernd Lucke also said after the vote, insisting his party was generally in favor of the EU despite its rejection of the common currency.

Grillo in the past has said his movement wouldn’t ally itself with Le Pen’s party, claiming the 5-Stars have a different “DNA.”
Conservative caucus leader Joseph Daul put a brave face on the results Sunday.

“One thing remains certain: EPP is the responsible political force in Europe, which keeps Europe open,” he said.

The European Parliament estimated turnout was narrowly up from the last election in 2009, at 43.1 percent, reversing years of declining turnouts.

Voters also put new parties in the European Parliament, with preliminary results showing that Sweden elected the first lawmaker from a feminist party and the Dutch returned one representative for the Party for the Animals.

“You know that we have created history don’t you? We inspire the world. This is the force of love!” the Feminist Initiative’s main candidate, Soraya Post, proclaimed in front of cheering supporters in Stockholm.