Extremists across Europe capitalise on disillusionment with 'Third Way'

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Extreme, sometimes flamboyant but always populist, the extreme right's electoral successes have jolted their mainstream rivals across Europe.

Pim Fortuyn's sharp rise in support in the Netherlands was just the latest sign of a wider resurgence of these parties from Copenhagen to Vienna.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front has received most attention recently but Mr Fortuyn and similar figures have emerged in Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland. Although varied, they all sought to upset the consensus between social democrats and Christian democrats that has dominated European politics since the war.

Capitalising on voter apathy and boredom with the status quo, far-right parties offer simple solutions to complex problems such as globalisation, sovereignty in the EU, mass migration and rising crime. A rash of elections across Europe in the coming year will give them a chance to entrench themselves further in those countries where proportional representation gives minority parties huge leverage.

The Netherlands and Ireland go to the polls this month; French parliamentary elections begin next month, followed by elections in Sweden and Germany in September.

In 1998, the centre-left, with its "Third Way", held power in 13 EU countries but now the pendulum is swinging back. Denmark, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Portugal all now have right-wing governments.

Jörg Haider's Freedom Party had six cabinet posts in a coalition with Austria's conservative party. Although Mr Haider fell out of the limelight, he is quietly preparing a bid for the Austrian chancellery.

In Italy, Umberto Bossi's Northern League and Gianfranco Fini's Alleanza Nazionale both hold senior posts in Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet. In Switzerland, the People's Party won 23 per cent of the vote last September.

In Denmark, Pia Kjaersgaard's Danish People's Party almost doubled its parliamentary seats and won 12 per cent of the vote in last November's general election.

The hardline Progress Party, which wants to cap immigration at 1,000 people a year, has held the balance of power in Norway since last October.

In Belgium, the Vlaams Blok party, which backs repatriation of non-Europeans, won 9.9 per cent in 1999 and became the largest political force in Antwerp in 2000.

In Germany, the Law and Order Offensive party, which backs forcible deportation and chemical castration for criminals, won 19 per cent of the vote in Hamburg last September. Its leader, Ronald Schill, is the city's interior minister. However, Germany has still not seen a real breakthrough for the extreme right. Mr Schill, known as "Judge Merciless", won only 4 per cent in April's Saxony-Anhalt elections. Similarly, Mr Le Pen's closest ally in Germany, Franz Schönhuber, a former SS soldier and leader of the Republican Party, has attracted negligible support in recent years.

Although the National Front received less than 18 per cent of the nationwide vote in France on Sunday, its support remains solid in the south, east and parts of the north. In these areas, the extreme right's vote reached 40 per cent in places.