Europe: does PR boost extremism?

As support for big-tent parties declines, the EU watches the inexorable rise of the Far-Right.  Why?

Maybe proportional representation (PR) voting systems are to blame.  An analysis of the speed the Far-Right is taking hold should provide some insight.

Look at the twenty-seven European Union countries, the types of voting system in each one, when the Far-Right party entered parliament or when it turned sharp-right, what percentage of votes and seats it got to start with, and how that same party is faring today.  In France the presidential elections was researched, due to the untypical, almost imperial power of the French President.

These are mostly not Fascist in the sense of being National Socialist parties.  They are quite often Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, strongly conservative, capitalist movements.  Sometimes, they might have liberal attitudes to lifestyle choices, often though they are traditionalist.  What's significant is the speed that they gained traction.  As can be seen, some are verging on entry into coalition government.  Often, they're in serious contention for real political power.

Here it is:

AUSTRIA:  support in 2008 was 17.5% or 34 of 183 seats
Freedom Party, founded 1956.  Jörg Haider became leader in 1986 and by 1990 the party was achieving 16.6%.  By 1999 the Freedom Party had reached 26.9% of the popular vote in elections for the National Council, or Nationalrat, of the Austrian Parliament.  He was replaced as leader in 2000 after when support declined.  Haider died in 2008.   
BELGIUM support in 2010 was 7.8% or 12 of 150 seats
(PR with threshold of 5% to enter parliament)
Vlaams Belang or Flemish Interest, the Flemish Far-Right party, was formed as Vlaams Blok in 1979 but was forced to disband and re-form in 2004.  The Blok gained 1.1% nationally in 1981 and the Belang 7.8% in 2010.  In Flanders itself, support rose from 12.3% in 1995 to 24.2% in 2004 when the Blok became the largest party in Flanders, although support has waned to 15.3%.  Support dropped after the creation of competing pro-independence parties, like the moderate New Flemish Alliance.

BULGARIA:  support in 2009 was 9.4% or 21 of 240 seats
(PR with threshold of 4% to enter parliament)
National Union Attack was formed in 2005 when it gained 8.1% in the election for the National Assembly.  This rose to 9.4% in 2009.

CYPRUS:  support untested
Elections are held every five years.  ELAM, the National Popular Front, was founded in 2008 and will now contest elections for the House of Representatives, the first being in 2011.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  party disbanded
(PR with the D'Hondt method applied, which favours big parties)
The Workers Party was founded in 2003.  In elections for the European Parliament it gained 0.18% in 2004 rising a touch to 1.07% in 2009.  It was disbanded by a Czech court in 2010.

DENMARK:  support in 2007 stood at 13.8% or 25 of 179 seats
(partial PR with a threshold of 2% to enter parliament)
The Danish Peoples Party was founded 1995.  It gained 7.4% in 1998 and reached 13.8% in the 2007 general election for the Folketing.

ESTONIA:  support now stands at 0.4%
(PR with threshold of 5% to enter parliament, having a modified formula making for more unproportionality)
The Estonian Independence Party was founded in 1999.  It hasn't gained traction at all, garnering a mere 0.4% at March 2011 general election for the Riigikogu and failing to win any seats.  Support was double its 2007 level, however. 

FINLAND:  support in 2011 stands at 19.1% or 39 of 200 seats
(PR. According to Wikipedia, although there is no set election threshold, many electoral districts have lost population in recent decades, and some now elect as few as six representatives, implying an effective threshold up to 14.3%, which favours major parties. In contrast, the biggest district, Uusimaa, elects 34 representatives, with a threshold close to 2.5%. The problem has been widely discussed for years, and in 2009, the Finnish government presented a proposal for a reform, including the introduction of a three percent threshold in the election scheduled for 2015).
The True Finns were formed in 1995.  They gained 19.1% of the vote in the April 2011 election for the Eduskunta, and 39 seats.  This was an increment of a whopping fifteen percent above their 2007 showing, when they mustered only 4% support.

FRANCE:  estimated present support for Marine Le Pen as next President to be 23%
(Presidential elections - universal suffrage system, first and second round voting)
The Front National, or National Front, (FN) was founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, in true French style, where so often parties are developed around the personalities and policies of one particularly charismatic individual. The FN achieved electoral breakthrough in parlientary elections of 1986 when it achieved 9.7% of the vote.  By 2002 Le Pen's support  had peaked at 16.86%, when he hit that figure in the first round of the presidential election, beating the Socialist into third place and precipitating a third-round run-off against incumbent President Jacques Chirac. In the third round Le Pen's support rose to 17.8%, but he was trounced.  His vote dropped in 2007, when only exceeding 10% in that year's presidential contest against the winner, Nicolas Sarkozy.  His daughter, Marine Le Pen, who's achieved stellar opinion poll ratings, replaced him as NF Leader earlier this year. By March, The Guardian was reporting that Marine was more popular than President Sarkozy.  Her estimated support was 23%, with Sarkozy and Socialist leader Martine Aubry behind on 21% apiece.  No wonder Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the IMF head, is considering standing as the Socialist as he's likely to outperform Aubry. 

GERMANY:  support less than 2%
(PR with threshold of 5% to enter parliament)
The National Democratic Party (NPD) was formed in 1964.  It has never gained traction, and consistently failed to surpass the five percent mark needed to gain entry to the Bundestag.  In 2009, the NPD received 1.8% in the constituency vote (no change on four years' earlier), and also 1.5% on the party list - down 0.1% on 2005.  But then, you wouldn't really expect many Germans to vote for a Far-Right party, would you?

GREECE:  support in 2009 was 5.65% or 15 of 300 seats
(PR with threshold of 3% to enter parliament)
In 2000, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) was founded and in 2004/5 it merged with a couple of other parties.  In 2009 it gained 5.65% of the votes (up from 3.8%) and 15 seats (up from 10) in the Hellenic Parliament. LAOS is now the fourth largest party in Greece.

HUNGARY:  support in 2010 was 16.67% or 47 of 386 seats
(PR with threshold of 5% to enter parliament)
In 2003, Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, was formed and it's now the third largest Hungarian party, achieving support of 16.67%.  Jobbik has 47 out of 386 seats in the present National Assembly.  Elections were last held in 2010 when Jobbik's support rose from 2.2% four years' earlier when it won no seats. From 2006 to 2010 Jobbik played an extra-parliamentary role, performing so effectively that last year the threshold was breached and even the party's own expectations exceeded.

ITALY:  support in 2008 was 8.3% or 60 of 617 seats in the Chamber of Deputies
(A party-list PR system with a series of thresholds to encourage parties to form coalitions)
The Lega Nord, or Northern League, was founded in 1991.  For most of its history it has garnered between 4% and 10% national support in elections for the Chamber of Deputies in Rome, although it is a regional, federalist, anti-immigration party.  The Telegraph wrote last year that the party had become "pivotal" to Silvio Berlusconi's coalition.  Over the five years to 2010 it doubled its support.  Regionally it performs even better, achieving 5.7% in the 2005 regional elections and 12.7% in 2010.

LATVIA:  support in 2010 was 7.67% or 8 of 100 seats
(PR with threshold of 5% to enter parliament)
The National Alliance was founded in 2010 when two parties merged.  It fought the October 2010 election for the Saeima, coming fourth and gaining 7.67% of the popular vote.

LITHUANIA:  support in 2008 was less than 2%
(PR with thresholds of 5% for a party, and 7% for a union of parties, to enter parliament)
Order and Justice was formed as the Liberal Democratic Party in 2002 and now holds 15 of the 141 seats in the Seimas.  This is not a true right wing party, but rather a centre-right national liberal group which is socially conservive, Eurosceptic and populist.  As such, it steals the thunder from the Young Lithuania Party, a true far-right party.  This year The Baltic Times wrote "the far right was also present in Vilnius’ streets on March 11, although the Lithuanian far right Young Lithuania Party can only dream about the popularity of their French colleagues – they received no seats in the Vilnius council during the recent municipal election and have no chance to get into the parliament."  Young Lithuania achieved just 1.75% of the vote for the Seimas in 2008, thus winning no seats.

LUXEMBOURG:  no relevant party
(PR with multi-member seats)
The National Movement rose to prominence in 1989, but died in 1994.

MALTA:  no relevant party
(Single Transferable Vote (STV) type of PR, "additional members are elected in cases of disproportionality, e.g. where a party with an absolute majority of votes fails (to gain) an absolute majority of seats and where only candidates from two parties are elected", says Wikipedia)
The right-wing National Action was formed in 2007, but disbanded in 2010 after gaining only 0.5% of the popular vote for the House of Representatives in 2008. 

NETHERLANDS:  support in 2010 was 15.5% or 24 of 150 seats
(PR with thresholds of less than 1%)
The Party for Freedom (PVV) was founded by Geert Wilders in 2005 as a one-man party in the House of Representatives, winning nine seats in 2006, and twenty-four in 2010 with 15.5% of the popular vote.  It is the third largest party in the Netherlands and backs the current government without accepting posts in the cabinet.

The pattern is becoming clear, but there are nine other sovereign EU states too.   Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom are next.

What does an analysis of the Far-Right parties in these nine remaining countries tell us?  See Part Two.

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