A far-right anti-Islamic party emerged as the big winner in the European elections in the Netherlands yesterday as the rest of the Continent braced itself for further gains by fringe parties over the weekend. The Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders, the maverick Dutch MP who was banned from entering Britain this year for his beliefs, won four seats in the European Parliament at the first time of asking, having been formed in 2006.

The result, which placed the party second in the Netherlands, behind only the ruling Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA), suggested that anti-immigrant parties would attract disaffected voters in a number of countries in the European polls. They are expected to gain seats in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

With most of the votes counted, Mr Wilders’s party took 17 per cent of the vote, second to the CDA of Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, which took 19.9 per cent, losing two of its seven MEPs.

Labour, which is in a coalition Government with the CDA, was the biggest loser, receiving only 12.1 per cent, compared with 23.6 per cent in 2004, and losing four of its seven seats. The result confirmed forecasts that the Right was set to claim victory in the elections, with results from the remaining 26 EU countries being declared tomorrow night after polls have closed. Wouter Bos, the Labour leader, said: “The parties that lost the most were those who supported Europe . . . who defended Europe against a lot of scepticism. It appears that the voters found that unconvincing.”

Mr Wilders, who will not be among his party’s MEPs, lives under police protection after numerous death threats for his outspoken calls for closing mosques and blocking immigration to Europe’s most populous country per square mile. He has likened the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

The party’s message found resonance in a reaction against the tolerance towards immigrants for which the Netherlands has become known. Mr Wilders, 45, made a controversial film last year that portrayed images of extremist violence against a backdrop of the Koran. “Turkey as [an] Islamic country should never be in the EU, not in ten years, not in a million years,” he said while campaigning on the slogan “More Netherlands, less Europe”. Explaining his rise in popularity over the past four years, he added: “My supporters say, ‘At last there is someone who dares to say what millions of people think’. That is what I do.”

Under a banning order signed by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary at the time, Mr Wilders was stopped at Heathrow from entering Britain in February to attend a screening of his film at the House of Lords.

“We want to fight for the right to decide who can immigrate to the Netherlands and that Brussels is not the decision-making body,” said Mr Wilders after his party’s success, in a reference to plans for an EU Blue Card similar to the US Green Card, which Britain has used its opt-out to avoid. “Many people clearly yearn for a different Netherlands and have had enough of this big Europe.”

His demand for the Dutch Government to stand down and call early elections was ignored by Mr Balkenende.

In a sign that Green parties will also pick up votes across the EU, the environmental Groenlinks party gained 8.8 per cent of votes in the Netherlands and three seats, up from 7.4 per cent and two seats, while the far-left Socialist Party remained at 7.1 per cent and two seats.

Mohammed Jabir, a political commentator on Muslim affairs, said: “The middle parties are losing ground. Basically it is Left against Right at this point. As long as the economic crisis continues, people will seek reasons for losing their jobs and their homes.”

SOURCE

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