PARIS (RNS) Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups across Europe have voiced alarm at gains by far-right groups in European Union parliamentary elections, fearing the parties may gain more clout on the European stage than their numbers suggest.
“The success of the far-right and nationalistic parties that won seats in the elections on the basis of racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic platforms points to a clear erosion of tolerance and a clarion call to European officials to immediately engage in intercultural dialogue,” the Paris-based European Jewish Congress said in a statement.
Far-right groups in half a dozen countries registered gains in four days of polling for the 736-seat European assembly. Only 43 percent of Europeans showed up at the polls, reflecting an undercurrent of disaffection and distrust of the European Union. In absolute terms, center-right parties registered the biggest gains.
In Britain, the anti-immigrant British National Party garnered about 6 percent of the votes and won its first seats in the European parliament. In the Netherlands, the anti-Islamic Freedom Party won an even larger share of the votes — 17 percent — and captured 25 parliamentary seats.
“The limited success of the BNP does not change the steadfast message: God loves all. Racism is a sin,” said Rachel Lampard, public issues adviser for Britain’s Methodist Church.
Parties in Austria, Hungary, Denmark and Romania also scored gains, as did Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
“We feel a malaise about the results,” said Karim Chamlal, spokesman for the Brussels-based Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe. “I’m for democracy, but it must exist in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”
Although far-right lawmakers will represent only a tiny slice of the European Parliament, the EJC raised concern they might gather into a minority group capable of wielding some influence.
Said Ferjani, policy head of the Muslim Association of Britain, also expressed alarm.
“We have to bear in mind that Auschwitz didn’t happen anywhere in the world — it happened in Europe,” he said. “And we have to be careful that sometimes — whether it’s Islamophobia or anti-Semitism — these sentiments resurface from time to time.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “there could be a silver lining in this vote, if Muslim and Jewish groups begin to work more closely together to fight intolerance.”