Nordic anger over immigration fuels populist vote

Nordic anger over immigration fuels populist vote
A brochure for Norway's populist Progress Party (fremskrittspartiet) that urges tighter limits on immigration is seen in Oslo.

STOCKHOLM - From spats over halal meat in Danish schools to asylum seekers in Sweden, anger about immigration has fuelled the march of populist parties across Nordic countries, leading one such group to the brink of government in prosperous Norway.

The anti-tax and anti-immigration Progress Party, which once had among its members mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, won 16 percent of votes on Monday and could be kingmaker in a new centre-right coalition after eight years of centre-left rule.

Its strength reflects both worries about an influx into the Nordics of asylum seekers from countries like Syria and economic migrants from Spain, as well as disenchantment with mainstream parties that have dominated the political landscape for decades.

"We'll ensure a solid footprint in a new government,"Progress leader Siv Jensen said. "We have reason to celebrate."

Even without entering government, right-wing populists have managed to toughen public policies ranging from immigration to euro zone bailouts, drag political debate to the right and become a permanent feature of the parliamentary landscape.

The backlash has surfaced even though Nordic economies have outperformed languishing southern European countries. Their success has attracted thousands of "euro refugees", vying for scarce jobs as their home states endure grinding austerity.

Economic conditions may be different, but many voters around Europe share the same perception that the established parties are out of touch with ordinary people and their concerns.

From Greece to France and the Netherlands, unemployment and economic grievances have combined with suspicion of European integration, Islam and multiculturalism, to propel both the far right and far left.

In Italy, the grassroots 5-Star Movement, born of disgust at the entire political establishment, surged to prominence in a general election in February. Britain's UK Independence Party has gained ground and spooked mainstream politicians by harnessing an anti-EU platform with hostility to immigration.

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