Members of the European Union (EU) awoke last week to an unprecedented string of victories for ultra right-wing parties across the continent in the most recent European Parliamentary elections. ILGA-Europe, the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, identified thirty separate incidents of hate speech against minorities used in campaigns, with twenty-one of them involving the “implicit incitement to hatred, prejudice or discrimination.” Those targeted most frequently were migrants and foreigners, LGBTI people and Muslims.
Composed of 766 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) elected proportionally from the 28 member states of the EU, the European Parliament is the world’s second largest democratic assembly (India’s Parliament is first) and represents more than 375 million people. As the “first institution” of the EU, the European Parliament works with the European Commission to govern the organization and its economy – the largest in the world. Member states elect MEPs separately from their own national parliaments, and the realization that the next sitting body will include British Euro-sceptics, Greek neo-Nazis and homophobic Latvian and Hungarian representatives has a great number deeply concerned.
While the rise of Euro-scepticism is certainly distressing for an organization dedicated to pan-European cooperation and integration, it’s the rhetoric of many successful parties that has activists worried. Britain’s UKIP, France’s Front National and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party all earned more than a quarter of their nation’s votes on racist, anti-immigration platforms. Greece voted in three members of Golden Dawn, a group with a flag reminiscent of the Nazi swastika (image, top) and whose members are encouraged to read Mein Kampf, while other successful parties in Italy and the Netherlands ran on Islamophobic calls for an end to mosques and Middle Eastern and North African immigration.
Despite EU anti-discrimination laws and expanding drives for marriage equality and civil unions across the continent, many parties also emerged victorious on the heels of outspoken homophobia. Italy will send five representatives from the Lega Nord party whose members include the former deputy-mayor of Treviso, Giancarlo Gentilini, who called for the “ethnic cleansing” of homosexuals in 2007, while an elected Latvian MEP likened Pride Parades to “pedophile marches” and called for measures similar to Russia’s anti-propaganda law. Taking advantage of recent events, Hungary’s Jobbik party campaign posters even vilified Eurovision Song Contest winner and sweetheart, Austria’s bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst, in order to advocate “traditional values.”
ILGA-Europe launched a European Elections 2014 Come Out campaign aimed at securing support for the advancement of human rights and LGBTI equality over the next five years. A recent report showed that only a quarter of newly elected MEPs have signed on, with not a single signatory from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland or Slovakia. Despite fear over the impact of a united hard-right bloc, ILGA-Europe remains optimistic, noting that the “vast majority of the Parliament continues to be held by political groups that support a European Union of fundamental rights and non-discrimination.” Nonetheless, the results remain profoundly disturbing, and equality groups will certainly have to work hard in the coming years.