Europe awoke to a new political reality this week after a weekend in which nationalist anti-European political parties registered “alarming” victories across the continent.
The results led European Jewish leaders to warn that a surge in support for extremist parties was “a clear warning sign” for political elites to tackle the daily concerns of Europe’s citizens.
In the UK, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) romped to victory, marking the first time in more than 100 years that a national poll has not been won by either the Conservatives or Labour.
And in France, there were similar ructions, with Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) winning 25 percent of the votes – five percent more than its nearest rival. Once a pariah party, this is the first time the FN has topped a French election, with the victory seemingly symbolising what one commentator described as “a stunning advance for opponents of European integration”.
Elsewhere there were similar stories. In Greece, where more than a dozen parties contested the European Parliamentary elections, the far-right Golden Dawn came in third, with one in 10 voters giving them the nod.
Other far-right groups in different countries also made an impact, with Austria’s Freedom Party taking 20 percent and Jobbik in Hungary bettering its 2009 result with just less than 15 percent – placing it second.
Dr Dieter Graumann, head of Germany’s Jewish umbrella group, admitted that the Euro election results were “a tremendous victory” for extreme parties.
“The results have just revealed that our concerns regarding the rise of anti-democratic forces were indeed all too legitimate,” he said. “The alarming success of extremist parties is the result of the passivity of European leaders and governments to deal with real issues facing European citizens,” said Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress.
The result was seen by many as a protest against a wave of austerity measures and unemployment, but Jewish groups were quick to warn of the dangers that such socio-economic conditions ferment.
Daniel Schwammenthal at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said that while mainstream parties still dominated the legislature, the success of the far-right “provides a soapbox from which to propagate their vile hatred”.
In a call-to-arms, he added: “These radical parties have been able to grow in their respective home countries for quite some time and are now cementing their presence at the European level. They must be confronted head-on or the danger will only continue to grow.”
Ronald Lauder at the World Jewish Congress concurred, saying: “The future of European Jewry is at stake if these forces are not reined in. Extremists must not be allowed to set the agenda.”