European right gets boost

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Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. Conservative politicians are celebrating in Europe today. Right of center parties picked up seats in the European Parliament after elections that were held in 27 countries over the past few days. Even far-right fringe parties made some inroads for instance an anti-Islamic party took 17% of the vote in the Netherlands and the far-right British National Party or BNP picked up its first two seats ever in the European Parliament. Olexiy Solohubenko is Europe editor at the BBC World Service in London. Okay so let's imagine the scenario. President Barack Obama comes to speak before the European Parliament some time in the future. What are the new faces in the audience and what will they represent for him?

OLEXIY SOLOHUBENKO: I think that President Obama in the newly elected European Parliament will see some of the faces that will be extremely unpleasant and then pleasant in a sense that they were campaigning and were elected but an openly racist anti-immigrant campaign. It shouldn't be over estimated. Those people are still in the minority however there's been a noticeable shift to the right and the language of some of the campaigning has certainly not been one of tolerance.

MULLINS: It has not been one of tolerance but is that basically a factor of the campaigning itself. In other words, once these people get elected, as you say they're going to be in the minority, when they face someone as influential as an American President, particularly right now Barack Obama who is riding on a very positive reputation, are they likely to as aggressive?

SOLOHUBENKO: I am not sure that they will be as aggressive. They will probably tame their words and their rhetoric but the essence of it is certainly there so I'm not sure they will change all of those spots.

MULLINS: Olexiy speak about the European Parliament which has been below the radar I think for a lot of people, mostly for Americans. What is the significance itself and what does it say about where Europe stands as a whole right now politically?

SOLOHUBNEKO: Not only Americans but also a lot of Europeans underestimate the importance of parliament. Parliament is elected in 27 countries by more than 375 million voters. It's a big experiment in democracy. Parliament is viewed by many Europeans as not really representing their views and yet it passes laws that then constitute up to three quarters of national legislation in the member countries of the European Union.

MULLINS: You mean so they would pass laws that would affect every country from Britain to the Netherlands?


MULLINS: Individually?

SOLOHUBENKO: Indeed yes. And for instance domestic legislation passed by the British Parliament, by the German Bundestag, by the National Assembly in France has to be compatible with the laws past in the European Parliament. So the fact that it is kind of loose and under the radar doesn't mean that it is unimportant and with these elections I think it focuses attention of many people, many Europeans, on the importance of it ? that actually it is important ? and it can be a barometer of what is the public mood across Europe and how this public mood will be then reflected in national elections across the continent.

MULLINS: Summarize in your view what the mood of the electors in Europe is.

SOLOHUBENKO: I think it's the mood of shifting plates. It's not the earthquake but overall I think the parties of the left have lost and the parties of the right or center-right have gained. What it means, I think, is that the earlier expectations that capitalism is dead and basically there needs to be a different rearrangement of the world, they were not reflected in the voter sympathies. This is a very, very strong indicator to the politicians in countries like Germany, in Britain, where elections are imminent that they need to readjust their policies if they want to win the will of the electorate. And we're talking about big countries in the European Union.

MULLINS: And one more question. Where does the agenda of the parliament overlap with the agenda of the United States?

SOLOHUBENKO: Well I think the issues of security is one. The issue of the economy is two. I think the whole issue of relations with the Islamic world and the issue of treating the immigrants could be an interesting area where there could be quite a lot of things that will be, if not coincidental, there will be lots of echoes. Particularly after the Cairo speech of President Obama. I think in the new parliament it will be very interesting to see what sort of dynamics ? how people will perceive that and how the newly elected MPs will have to react to these issues that are very, very acute across Europe particularly in countries with a very large immigration from the subcontinent or from North Africa.

MULLINS: Alright. Olexiy Solohubenko is Europe editor at the BBC World Service in London. Than you very much.
SOLOHUBENKO: My pleasure.