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  • The Politics of Immigration:Why Spain Is Different
  • Omar G. Encarnación (bio)

A corollary of postwar migration to Western Europe is the dramatic surge of radical, right-wing populist movements and political parties.1 A key to their appeal is a xenophobic and often blatantly racist agenda that advocates curbing the flow of immigrants into the country, curtailing or eliminating access to social services, and halting the progress of multiculturalism. The paradigmatic case is France, where Jean-Marie Le Pen's Popular Front, an extreme nationalist party founded in 1972 with the motto of "France for the French," has become a major player in the country's politics. In 2002 Le Pen rocked the French political establishment by gaining nearly 20 percent of the vote in the second round of the presidential elections. Socialists and conservatives alike greeted the electoral results as "cataclysmic, dramatic, shameful, a disgrace to French democracy."2 But the phenomenon of immigration birthing militant anti-immigrant movements hardly stops at France's borders, although the political success of these groups, breathtaking in some instances, varies significantly from case to case.

In the mid-1990s, Italy's Northern League, which has made immigrant bashing a foundation of its appeal to voters, became the country's leading political party, with the largest number of members in the national parliament. [End Page 167] Much to the consternation of other European Union nations, Austria's Freedom Party became part of a coalition government in 1999, winning 27 percent of the vote, only six points behind the leading party, the Social Democrats. Its leader, Jörg Haider, is notorious for his alleged Nazi sympathies and professed opposition to immigration and multiculturalism. Switzerland's People's Party, described in some quarters as xenophobic, and its leader, Christoph Blocher (the "Nazi Billionaire"), won 27 percent of the vote (the largest share for any party) in the October 2002 elections, guaranteeing the party a spot in the country's multiparty coalition government. In Norway, the Party of Progress, known for its anti-immigration views, won 25 seats in the 165-seat parliament in the September 2002 elections.

Even in the Netherlands, a country famous for its tolerant attitudes and liberal institutions, xenophobia has crept into the political system, though in keeping with the country's unusually progressive politics this has come with an interesting twist. The country's leading anti-immigrant organization, the List, is the second largest party in the national parliament, having won 26 parliamentary seats in the general elections of May 2002. Its rise was spearheaded by Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay former academic murdered in 2002 by a radical vegetarian activist, who justified his anti-Muslim rhetoric on grounds that Muslim immigrants are homophobic and antiwomen and therefore a threat to the Netherlands' culture of diversity and tolerance. Waiting in the wings to leave their mark on national politics are the British National Party (BNP), the Hellenic Front in Greece, the Popular Party in Portugal, and the German People's Union.

Small wonder, then, that political commentators on both sides of the Atlantic are having a field day speculating whether Europe is on the brink of falling into the political abyss, with some openly raising the specter of the rise of another Nazi Germany. A typical view comes from Britain, where the BNP's winning of three local government seats in municipal elections in 2002 caused on uproar in the national press. Writing in London's Evening Standard, Richard Overy, an expert on European fascism at King's College, warned about history's "unhappy habit of springing surprises."3 "Who in [End Page 168] 1928, with a Europe returning to prosperity, could have predicted that only five years away Germany would be plunged into the most criminal dictatorship of the century?" he observed.4 For their part, members of Europe's political elite (from the center-Right and especially the center-Left) have been falling over each other in condemning the rise of extreme right-wing groups all over the European map in the hope of squelching their progress. Jacque Chirac refused to debate Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential elections of April 2002. According...