Partly as a result, this will be the most interesting European election campaign since direct elections to the European parliament began in 1979 – for all across Europe there is the most amazing array of national protest parties. “Populists” is the blanket term lazily draped over them all, but it does not capture their diversity. With all due disrespect to the UK Independence party and Germany’s anti-euro Allianz für Deutschland, it is quite wrong to tar them with the same brush as Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik or France’s Front National. That’s even more true of, say, Catalan nationalists, let alone Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy – which could not be farther from the far right. Closer to the xenophobic politics of the French Front National – but with multiple national and sub-national variations – are groupings such as the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Finland’s The Finns party (until recently, True Finns), the Danish People’s party, and so-called Freedom parties in Austria and Holland.
Two of their most skilful leaders, Marine Le Pen of the French Front National and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom party, have started trying to pull them together. After wooing in spring, over lunch at the elegant La Grande Cascade restaurant in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne, this odd couple last week performed the political equivalent of a wedding dance in The Hague.
“Today is the beginning of the liberation from the European elite, the monster in Brussels,” cried Wilders. “Patriotic parties”, added Le Pen, want “to give freedom back to our people”, rather than being “forced to submit their budget to the headmistress”. In Vienna on Friday, four others – Austria’s Freedom party, Sweden’s Democrats, Italy’s Northern League and Vlaams Belang – joined a wary waltz with Le Pen.