The European Union's parliament is due to undergo elections later this month, and many poll projections across the troubled continent suggest that extreme right and fascist parties are set to make large gains. The Europe-wide elections will take place across all 28 member states in two weeks, an event which many now fear is going to give power and legitimacy to parties running on platforms of racism, sexism, homophobia and fascism.

While Europe's habitual problem of far right extremism never disappeared completely. For years, the EU had made it seem as if it was at least contained, with overtly racist parties gaining very few seats in the European Parliament or legislative bodies in their own countries. Since the global financial crash in 2008, however, the economic hardships of austerity and unemployment have led to a sharp increase in support for the extreme right across Europe, even in the more economically stable northern countries like France and the UK.

In France, the National Front (FN) has made significant gains in recent years since its current leader, Marine Le Pen, took over the party in 2010 and went to great lengths to detoxify the party and separate it from its anti-Semitic roots when it was founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. The FN recently made significant gains in local elections across France and gained control of several towns, leading some critics to remember the last time the party led regional townships; books by leftist writers were pulled out of public libraries and systematically thrown in the trash.

The public appearance of the FN took on a more respectable edge when Le Pen moved the party's focus from overt white supremacy to Islamophobia, these days the most common form of racism in Europe. One of Le Pen's favourite dog-whistles to get the racist vote out is to complain about halal butchers, apparently because cruelty to animals can be painted up as offensive to a food culture whose most delicious meat product is the diseased liver of a force-fed duck.

In Britain the main challenge has come from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a nationalist party running ostensibly on fears of immigration but whose representatives and candidates at both the local and national levels have repeatedly been outed as old-fashioned racists who have at times praised colonialism and slavery, condemned women's rights in the workplace, and blamed seasonal flooding on the recent statutory legislation allowing gay marriage. Their insurgency on the British political stage is often said to be the UK's version of the Tea Party.

UKIP's support has grown rapidly since 2010, to the point where the party now threatens to win 38% of the national share of votes for the European Parliament, which would make it the largest British party in the EU. Mounting evidence in the public domain that the party is a hotbed of right wing extremism has failed to dent this success, leading critics to wonder aloud if the main Westminster parties' growing aloofness and arrogance is to blame for the insurgency.


While other parties of this type operate with increasing success throughout Europe, the most extreme version by far is the Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party in Greece which gained nearly 20 seats in the national parliament in 2012 after Greece's economy, plundered by Goldman Sachs, the European Central bank and the IMF, collapsed. As well as being openly racist, the Golden Dawn is extremely violent, making deals with the police force (50% of which votes for them) to let them control certain areas with dangerous vigilante squads, while their support in the military is also growing. Several of their MPs are currently standing trial on multiple counts of assault and murder.

Much of Europe's difficulty with racism and fascism is that the continent is reverting to type; the horrors of the early 20th century did not occur in a historical vacuum, and wealthy elites have always been able to count on this deep-running cultural malaise to stir up fear and hatred during times of economic hardship. Hatred of Muslims throughout the continent has been whipped up by political leaders and newspapers whose friends in high places include the same bankers, traders and industrialists whose activities created the 2008 global crash, and also by security firms, military contractors and oil giants who have profited enormously from wars of aggression in the Middle East.

But the problem has also been a failure of the political class worldwide, with frequent discussions in the mainstream of ‘a crisis of democracy’ – even the Economist has raised concerns over the failure of political elites in strong Western nations to deliver on their promises to voters. The European working classes have had little say in the increasing deconstruction of their beloved welfare states over the past three decades, and attempts by left-wing governments to resist that tide have been soundly punished by financial interests whose lobbying power and threats of capital flight that regularly discipline these states.

Just as in the thirties, this turn towards racial hatred is not simply because people have suddenly become more racist but because increasingly a vote against politics itself is felt to be the best way to express disgust at the failures of the system. And, just as in the thirties, a closer inspection of the funding and connections of racist parties is very revealing as to the interests they serve.

UKIP's leader, Nigel Farage, was formerly a financial trader in the City of London, and advocates free financial markets and the repeal of workers' rights on behalf of these interests. Major funding for UKIP comes from business interests in land, publishing, mining and banking. Marine Le Pen's own views on national economics are more pro-business than she likes to advertise, that the FN's admiration for Thatcher and Reagan's economic policies lurks beneath their anti-finance noises and that Le Pen supports austerity and inequality provided they benefit specifically French elites.

This relationship between cultural racism and big money has form. Islamophobes often claim not to be racist because, unlike 20th century fascists, their arguments are not biological – yet a brief glance at Goebbels's handiwork shows that the vast majority of anti-Jewish propaganda handed out in the thirties was not about racial eugenics but Jewish culture, a strategy which is now being employed openly by European right-wingers insisting that they are not racist. That this information was historically also disseminated throughout Britain and America by their own wealthy elites (the Rockefeller family once plotted to provide funding and support for a fascist coup in America) suggests that perhaps we are not so different to our recent ancestors as many of these parties would like us to think.

Echoes of this behaviour in supposedly civilised nations in Europe are becoming increasingly more respectable. Finnish extremists the True Finns called for all immigrants to wear mandatory armbands in public; France banned the burqa in public 2010; Swiss politicians banned the building of new mosques in Geneva as they were making the skyline look ‘less Swiss’ - even though none had been built. UKIP's Gerard Batten, a leading figure in the party, called for all Muslims to sign a code of nonviolent conduct.

The British media's own institutional racism shoulders far too little blame for this state of affairs. The bogeyman of Islamist terrorism is enormously overstated, making up 0.4% of terror threats in Europe (85% of them come from radical separatists), yet Rupert Murdoch and other moguls help perpetuate fears about Islamic terrorism in daily headlines – behaviour which is extremely helpful in justifying GCHQ and NSA surveillance and foreign wars in the Middle East.

Murdoch's empire and the unceasingly malignant Daily Mail have also led the British media to push the fantasy of secret Muslim paedophile rings. A stark example of this was the case of a paedophile ring discovered in Rochdale, formed of men of Asian descent, after which right-wing commentators argued at length that there was “a need for a national conversation about Muslim culture.” In the same town it was recently discovered that the now deceased Sir Cyril Smith, a prominent Liberal Democrat politician, had been a member of a paedophile ring of high-profile white Christian sex offenders, and yet no “national conversation” has so far been called for. This behaviour has become normal in the British press, and among media organisations throughout Europe whose editorial intentions vary only from corruption to stupidity.

The economic crisis in the Eurozone is far from over, with many of the peripheral countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain struggling with mounting debts and crippling unemployment, while the banking activities which caused the crisis show no signs of fundamental change. With the threat of further economic pain and the whipping up of racist sentiments by wealthy elites and their political lap-dogs, Europe is on course to hand over significant legislative power to the kinds of dangerous ideologues that, on close inspection, are not so different to a kind that we have seen before.