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From Netherland to Norway: Europhobia to Mark the Upcoming Elections

For years,
Geert Wilders, the blond-haired Dutch, radical, right-wing, populist politician,
was known for his extremely negative views on the non-Dutch in his country.
Most of his speeches, in the Netherlands and abroad, focused on the danger of
Islam and a few years ago he made an amateurish but widely publicized short
movie in which he inextricably linked Islam to terrorism. For most friends and
foes, Wilders was the textbook representative of the new Islamophobia in Europe
and the US, building on the fear of Islam after the terrorist attacks of 9/11,
that labels all Muslims as potential violent challengers to the West.

In circles
of European and American right-wing extremists, Wilders became a cult figure
who bravely defied all the threats against him. It was no coincidence that Anders
Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, referred to Wilders several times in his
anti-immigrant manifesto.

In the
Netherlands, Wilders did well in the 2010 parliamentary elections. He got 15
percent of the vote and his party, the Freedom Party, decided to support the
minority government of Liberals and Christian Democrats. Within a few years,
Wilders had managed to escape the political margins and position himself as a
power broker in Dutch politics.

Wilders has overplayed his hand

That all
came to an abrupt end, in April of this year, when he refused to support the
budget cuts necessary for the Netherlands to meet euro-zone deficit targets.
Elections for a new parliament are set for Sept. 12, but it seems that Wilders
has overplayed his hand because none of the other parties are keen on involving
his party in a new coalition government. Furthermore, the center-right parties
are fed up with his inflammatory rhetoric and his unwillingness to take
responsibility for unpopular austerity measures.

In a
surprising move, Wilders recently announced that for him, the key issue in the
election campaign will not be the danger of Islam but the future of the EU.

Already
over the last couple of months one could see this change of strategy coming.
Even his biggest opponents agree that Wilders is a smart tactician and there
are two main reasons why this populist at heart realized that the time had come
to select a new enemy. In all of the opinion polls and according to a growing
number of research data, there was an increasing gap between Wilders’ obsession
with Islam and the preoccupations of his electorate. For most of his voters,
Islam and Muslims are simply not a political priority. Many of his followers
even think Wilders is overdoing his Islam-bashing. They support him because
they hate all of the other politicians and have the impression that only
Wilders is voicing their concerns against a political elite that is perceived
as too soft on immigration, crime and the loss of national identity.

That last
argument is linked to the second motive behind Wilders’ change of mind: the
growing resistance against European interference with the way the Dutch economy
and welfare state are organized. In order to solve the euro crisis, European
leaders have decided to give EU institutions a bigger say on issues that many
Dutch people consider should be decided by their nationally elected
politicians. A substantial part of the Dutch electorate is reluctant to give
“Brussels,” presented by euro critics as an anonymous bureaucracy, more power
although many realize deep down that most probably there is no other option
available. It is this doubt and skepticism about the EU that populists from the
right (Wilders) and the left (the booming Socialist Party) want to exploit at
the next elections.

The Favorite Topic for Norway’s Next Election:
Europe

Similarly,
Norway had a rising so-called Islamophobic trend especially among the extreme
right wing groups and as a result of political rhetoric of the populist
Progress Party (FrP). The trend was interrupted with the 22 July terrorist attacks
by a right wing extremist, Breivik. Yet, the recent discussions around the
presence of Romani people and the recent crime statistics dominated by Eastern
Europeans who come to Norway, thanks to the Schengen agreement, show that this
suppressed reaction could still evolve into a similar Europhobic trend as seen
in the Netherlands.

Even though
Norway is not member of the EU, it still faces the “challenge” of the
union as a Schengen country, which enables free movement among all European
Union states. Therefore, the debate on the increasing number of Romani, some of
whom end up on streets, leads us to the ongoing EU dispute, which looks to be a
trendy topic for the next election. When we look at the Norwegian political
parties’ stance on the issue, it seems that even pro-EU parties are not defending
the EU ideal.

Romani camp and beggars

The most
extreme example of this unpopular European ideal can be traced in the coalition
government member, the Liberal Party (Sp). Sp is a liberal, centrist and Nordic
agrarian political party in Norway, founded in 1920. The Centre Party’s policy
focuses on maintaining decentralized economic development and political
decision-making. The party is already known as anti-European but the party has
radically increased its criticism of Europe in recent years. When the crisis of
the Romani camp and beggars in Oslo erupted, Sp was the first party which
proposed to opt out of the Schengen region. Sp politician Jenny Klinge
described the Schengen Agreement as a tool that makes it easier for criminals
to enter Norway.

Previously,
the right-wing Progress Party (FrP) had relatively ambitious training in EU
affairs within the party. However, it has always been uncertain whether to be
pro or con-EU. Yet, the Progress Party seems to have started its pacifist EU
stance to anti-European rhetoric in recent months. The criticism against the
foundations of a united Europe is spoken out louder nowadays. The party’s
leader, Siv Jensen’s call for sending the Romani people out of Norway is seen
as highlighting a new anti-European rhetoric aligning with free movement
discussions. 

Challenges for a pro-European policy

The most
interesting case is the Conservative Party (Høyre). Traditionally, the party
considers an eventual membership of Norway in the European Union as a priority,
promoting the importance of the union on every occasion. However, the debates
about the Romani people and the statistics of the increasing crime rate are
driving the party into a corner. While people are convinced about the root of
the problem being membership of the European Union, a pro-European policy does
not look to be sustainable in the medium term.

Considering
the perseverance of the challenges in free movement and the financial crisis in
the Euro-zone, Europhobia is doomed to be the new trend that will shape the
political sphere of both the Netherlands and Norway in the following
years.  

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