Wilders strikes first blow for European extremists

Fears that low turnout and gains by far right will be repeated across the EU

The first killer punch of the European election campaign was struck yesterday by the maverick Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who scooped 17 per cent of the vote and almost a fifth of his country's seats in the European Parliament running on a populist, anti-immigrant, law and order agenda.

The Dutch result, released two days early – before most Europeans had even cast their votes – sent jitters around a continent fearful that a miserably low turnout will help extremists on both the left and right.

Mr Wilders, refused access to Britain as a rabble-rouser earlier this year, has perfected a form of tolerant intolerance with his Freedom Party and its smartly-suited, middle-class, anti-Islamic and "pro-liberal" values. While the Christian Democrats of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende managed to keep hold of the largest share of the votes (albeit with the loss of two seats and a mere three-point lead), the Freedom Party romped home in second.

The platinum-blond maverick shot to international prominence for branding the Koran a "fascist book" and releasing a film, Fitna, which depicted Islam as inherently violent. "This is fantastic, a great day for the people who crave another Netherlands, another Europe," declared a triumphant Mr Wilders who won four of the 25 seats up fro grabs. Having beaten the Labour party, the other main bloc in the Prime Minister's coalition, into third place, he claimed the government no longer had a mandate. "The cabinet should step down, the sooner the better," he told Dutch television, although analysts said that was wishful thinking.

In another worrying sign from this founding EU member, turnout in the Netherlands was reported to be down to 36.5 per cent for Thursday's poll, three points lower than the 2004 elections. With that in mind and with the majority of the 27 member states still to vote this weekend, European leaders urged people to the polls. "Everyone must understand that Europe is very important to daily lives," the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, pleaded.

At European Commission headquarters in Brussels there was anger that the Dutch, in clear breach of the rules, released their results before most of the continent was able to vote. It did "not comply with the spirit" of the EU vote, said spokesman Amadeo Altafaj Tardio. But the low turnout and the resurgence of extreme parties are expected to be familiar themes when the official results start coming in from the rest of the continent tomorrow night.

With the exception of Britain, Ireland and Spain – where those in power are expected to get particularly bloody noses – most ruling parties can expect to follow the Dutch pattern, seeing their support siphoned off by the extreme flanks but managing to eke out a limp endorsement from the electorate.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, President Sarkozy in France and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy will escape the battering which seems certain for Gordon Brown and the Irish PM, Brian Cowen.

Europe-wide trends towards the left and right, pro or anti-Europe, will be difficult to discern. Most national campaigns, in so far as they have stirred popular or media interest at all, have been fought on national themes. Even the low turnout has no Europe-wide explanation. In some countries, such as Poland, it reflects a vague contentment with the EU; in other countries, such as Greece or the Netherlands, there's growing disenchantment.

Here is the great European paradox. European voters complain that the EU is too distant and too abstract; the more power their elected representatives in Brussels and Strasbourg are given, the more the voters shun the European elections. In 1979, turnout was nearly 62 per cent. In 2004, it was 45 per cent. Yet the European Parliament has acquired considerable new powers to amend European legislation. The newly elected assembly will – unless Irish voters reject the Lisbon Treaty again – become virtual co-legislators with governments across the spectrum of EU policy and law-making.

Country by country: How battle shapes up

*Germany: Like Gordon Brown, Chancellor Angela Merkel has campaigned as a "safe pair of hands" for hard times – only she has succeeded. Interest in the election has been low, but Ms Merkel's coalition is forecast to win up to 39 per cent of the vote, despite severe recession and a German habit of turning left, or to extremes, in times of difficulty.

*France: President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP will top the poll with about 25 per cent, after stressing law-and-order issues and opposition to Turkish membership. However, the widely forecast meltdown of the divided main opposition party, the Socialists, has failed to materialise. The great winner may be Daniel Cohn Bendit, the student leader in the May protests of 1968, whose ecological, pro-European list may sneak into third place.

*Italy: Despite revelations about his friendship with a teenage girl, and a very public "no" vote from his wife, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will probably top the poll. The centre-left Democrats, founded only two years ago, have failed to impress, even with the recession.

*Poland: The centre-right party of the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, (Civic Platform) is expected to take over 40 per cent. The Eurosceptic Law and Justice party of the President, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin-brother Jaroslaw, the ex-prime minister, is forecast to score only 30 per cent. The great paradox will be the turnout. More than 80 per cent of Poles say they are content with EU membership; less than 20 per cent may bother to vote to prove it.

John Lichfield

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks
tv

Regular cast member Ste Hay, played by Kieron Richardson, is about to test TV boundaries

Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
techPerils of 'text neck' revealed
News
i100
News
Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt
peopleStonewall boss says many fear it could ruin their careers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager
Isis in Iraq: Baghdad hails the retaking of the Baiji oil refinery as the start of the long fightback against the Islamist militants

Isis takes a big step back

Baghdad hails the retaking of the Baiji oil refinery as the start of the long fightback against the Islamist militants
Bill Cosby: America’s beloved TV ‘dad’ or serial rapist?

Bill Cosby: America’s beloved TV ‘dad’ or serial rapist?

Ukip silk bow ties, Green Party T-shirts, and 'Iron Baby' romper suits: How to shop politically

How to shop politically

Ukip silk bow ties, Green Party T-shirts, and 'Iron Baby' romper suits
The science of sex: What happens when science meets erotica

Sex on the brain

Fetishes, dominatrixes, kinks and erotica. They are subjects that should get the crowds flocking to a new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection