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

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?