VIENNA, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Europe's far right is on the move again. A new coalition of the anti-immigration and strongly nationalist parties of Europe has been forged to increase their separate weight in the European Parliament.
So far, the group includes the British National Party, France's National Front, Italy's Fiamma Tricolore, Sweden's National Democrats and Belgium's Nationalist Front from the French-speaking southern half of the country.
Other far-right groups from Spain and Portugal are expected to join soon, and organizers claim that Austria's Freedom Party has also pledged to join, although it is weakened by the death last year of its charismatic leader, Joerg Haider.
The organizing document around which these parties are rallying in the new "Alliance of European Nationalist Movements" was drafted by Nick Griffin, leader of Britain's BNP.
It commits its signatories to oppose "any attempts at forming an EU federal state" and wants control over industrial, trade and economic policies to be returned to national governments. It urges "pro-family policies" and "traditional values" and says that Europe should be protected from "religious, political, economic and financial imperialism."
It also calls for a halt to further immigration, tough measures against illegal immigrants and offers of financial assistance to tempt existing immigrants to return to their countries of origin.
Despite the new coalition, the group falls short of the threshold required by the European Parliament for recognition as a political grouping that qualifies for EU subsidies, office space, places on key committees and the right to be consulted by the Parliament's leadership and administration. The threshold for such a group is at least 25 members of the 736-strong elected body from at least seven different countries.
So far, only the BNP, France's National Front, Austria's Freedom Party and Hungary's Jobbik have any members of the European Parliament, although in total they have just reached double figures. Jobbik won 14.7 percent of the vote in Hungary in the June European elections, giving it three MEPs, and the BNP won two. The French NF has three and Austria's FPO has two MEPs.
Altogether there are 27 MEPs from 11 countries whose policies are somewhat in sympathy with the new group. But the neo-fascist label that is widely applied to the BNP and France's National Front makes it unlikely that they would all sign up for the new movement. And they are deeply divided over national issues. The Flemish right wing will not join a group that includes French-speaking Belgians, and Romanian and Slovak right-wingers will not join one that includes Jobbik, which is seen as hostile to the Romanian and Slovak minorities in Hungary.
A separate group of nationalist euro-skeptics, known as Europe of Freedom and Democracy, has 37 MEPs and firmly opposes any links with the extreme right.
Although the new grouping looks feeble in the broader context of European politics, many of its opponents fear that it could grow fast under the impact of the recession and sharply rising unemployment. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former French finance minister and current managing director of the International Monetary Fund, argues that so far the recession has seen a financial crisis turn into a full-scale economic crisis and that a sociopolitical crisis is more than likely to follow.
In Britain, hard hit by the recession, the BNP won more than a million votes and two MEPs in this summer's European elections, by far its strongest-ever showing. As a result, the BBC was last week driven by its own rules to give the BNP leader, one of the new MEPs, a platform on its flagship political program, "Question Time."
Griffin's appearance triggered angry demonstrations outside BBC offices. And while the program gave him a rough ride, pressing him to explain his earlier questioning of the Holocaust and demanding whether children of immigrants born in Britain would be or even could be deported, more than 8 million viewers tuned in.
A quarter of British whites told this year's government-run Citizenship Survey that they thought they were disadvantaged in access to public housing because they were white, a significant rise from the 15 percent who made the same claim in 2001.
Among those children receiving free school meals in Britain, the usual definition of coming from a poor family, whites score the lowest in the GCSE exams taken by almost all students at age 15, coming behind children from Afro-Caribbean or Bangladeshi and Pakistani families.
Both the BNP and its predecessor in the 1970s, the National Front, have traditionally won most votes in working-class areas, particularly those with high unemployment. This should come as no surprise, since these are the populations least educated and least equipped to cope with the challenges for jobs and housing that come with large-scale immigration.
But the BNP's claim to patriotism, by filling its parades and meetings with displays of the British flag and claiming Winston Churchill as one of their own who would be a member were he alive today, has triggered a backlash against them. On his TV appearance, Griffin was challenged by members of the audience for his "absurd" claim on Churchill, a challenge likely to be strengthened by the new alliance with the far right from elsewhere in Europe.