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Europe Looks Inward, Tilts to the Right

A poster with the message "France: Love It or Leave It" is on display at the presidential convention of extreme right-wing presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR /
A poster with the message "France: Love It or Leave It" is on display at the presidential convention of extreme right-wing presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

A mood of nationalist introspection is sweeping over Europe.

The Sept. 11 attacks, the bombings in Madrid and London, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the French ghetto riots and violent reactions by many Muslims to the Mohammed cartoons published by a Danish paper, are producing an anti-immigrant backlash bordering on xenophobia.

Language taboos are being broken, politically correct discourse is being challenged and even European leftists are beginning to debate the limits of tolerance. They are also starting to acknowledge the failure of four decades of immigration policies -- based on idealistic multiculturalism and/or condescending benign neglect -- that have produced separate, parallel societies of immigrants.


The inward-looking climate throughout the continent is playing into the hands of right-wing political parties that until recently had been stigmatized as unacceptable in proper European society. The radical populist right is scoring electoral successes from Poland to Austria, from Switzerland to Germany.

In January, Romania and Bulgaria will join the European Union, bringing their own right-wing politicians to swell the ranks of the right in the European Parliament. For the first time, Europe's extreme rightists will have sufficient numbers of deputies to form their own political group in the Parliament. This will provide a powerful platform for anti-immigrant and Euro-skeptic politicians.

The impact of globalization on European economies and rising unemployment are producing a growing sense of insecurity and loss of national identity. Xenophobic and nationalist slogans that had always been the purview of the hard right, are now becoming part of mainstream politics. More and more neo-conservative parties are putting aside their free-market, small-government strategies and focusing almost exclusively on immigration -- which in Europe is code for Muslim immigration.

The new slogans being heard throughout Europe -- even from social democrats -- are: tighter rules on welfare benefits for immigrants; expulsion of illegal immigrants; strict limits on new immigration and family reunifications; and specific requirements to obtain residency and citizenship. The latter include courses in civic values and languages of the host societies.

In a bid to determine whether newcomers can adapt to its liberal society, the Netherlands is going so far as to show prospective immigrants a video of naked women at the seaside and gay men nuzzling in a park. The premise is that anyone who is offended by these images would not be able to adapt and should not be allowed in. More and more, the word assimilation is being heard rather than integration.


This series of reports follows two previous ones aired in 2003 and 2004 that focused on Muslims in Europe. Here, we are focusing on three host societies:

Denmark, the icon of welfare-state progressivism, where a liberal open-door policy has been replaced by the toughest immigration policy in Europe;

Belgium, home of one of Europe's most successful ultra-right wing parties. In the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, Vlaams Belang is the biggest political force. It is kept out of power thanks to a governing pact among all the other political parties.

France, the bad boy of French and European politics, ultrarightist Jean-Marie Le Pen is again causing alarm in the political establishment. Polls show him with double the support he had at the same time before the 2002 presidential elections, when he shocked Europe with his sensational second-place finish.

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