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Europe’s Anti-Europeans

PARIS – In 2005, two founding members of the European Union, France and the Netherlands, rejected by popular referendum the EU’s proposed constitutional treaty. Two far-right parties from these countries, the French National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, have now formed an alliance ahead of the European Parliament elections in May 2014. They hope to attract likeminded parties in other EU countries and form a parliamentary bloc powerful enough to slay “the monster of Europe,” as Geert Wilders, the Freedom Party’s leader, calls the EU.

It is no accident that France and the Netherlands have taken the lead in this sordid venture. Both countries are in the midst of a deep identity crisis that is mutating into disdain for Europe, foreigners, migrants, and all who represent the “other.” And both countries are experiencing an increase in popular suspicion toward traditional political elites.

In this environment, the upcoming European Parliament elections seem tailor-made for extremist parties, with recent public-opinion polls suggesting that the National Front will come out on top in France. European elections leave most citizens indifferent, which translates into low voter turnout – except among those who, defined by what they oppose, wish to express their anger and frustration with the status quo.

Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s leader, is shrewd and efficient, running on a straightforward message: “Europe is against the people, so the people must mobilize against Europe.” With her semblance of moderation, she is far more appealing than her father and former party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her strategy is to enter the mainstream of French politics by shedding all traces of past anti-Semitism, thereby turning the National Front into a seemingly legitimate alternative to a decadent traditional right, which has suffered a prolonged bout of infighting since Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election.