The following piece was published 23 December 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
Upcoming European Parliament elections have triggered concerns about the growing prominence of hard-right political parties in a number of European countries.
Some analysts say growing euroscepticism is pushing some voters to the right, and say it could even be a precursor to the demise of the so-called European project.
With elections due in May 2014, the policies of the far-right European parties are under increasing scrutiny.
Ildi Amon prepared this report.
(audio) "The European Union should take its Maoist paws off this country and never set foot in this country again. Because if it does we'll twist its nose and chase it out of the country with a bullwhip. That's our message to it. Should the European Union live or burn?"
That's Gabor Vona, the leader of Hungary's Jobbik party, addressing a rally in 2012 where protesters urged him to set fire to a European Union flag.
The nationalist party, which has 11 per cent of the seats in Hungary's National Assembly, taps into anger at what's seen as foreigners intervening in domestic issues.
While critics describe its policies as anti-Semitic and anti-Roma, Jobik says it's promoting national pride and sovereignty.
Elsewhere in Europe, there's growing support for Marine le Pen's French National Front.
In 2012 Ms Le Pen came third in France's presidential elections, capturing almost 18 per cent of the first-round vote.
She told Russian TV she wants to regain control of France's borders, culture, sovereignty and finances, and says presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy have damaged the country.
"The reality is that things are getting worse and worse. And these two movements managed to turn one of the world's richest countries, France, into a bankrupt country with a rocketing unemployment rate, with poverty that continues to rise and a real feeling of despair, with a culture that is collapsing. It's important to talk about this. In life, it's not just the material aspect. There's also a feeling of belonging to a people, a desire to defend one's culture and identity. An identity that's so respected across the world, everywhere, except by the French elite."
The Eurozone financial crisis and sovereign debt crisis have shaken the belief that membership of the European Union would protect nation states.
Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party has tapped into anger at tough austerity measures imposed as part of a Eurozone and International Monetary Fund bailout package.
Associate Professor of European studies at the University of Hong Kong, Stefan Auer, says disillusionment with the EU and mainstream parties can push votes to the right.
"Until quite recently, say until a decade ago, Europe seemed to provide a viable answer to these globalising tendencies. That is, nations of Europe were empowered through European integration to withstand the pressures of the global markets. But now this is turning around. That is, Europe itself disempowers its member states that is countries like Ireland, Greece, Portugal, to some extent even Spain are no longer in charge of their destiny."
Lecturer in European studies at Monash University, Ben Wellings, says the open borders of 26 countries in the Schengen Area have caused resentment at the lack of migration control.
"The far-right parties not only claim to be able to try and - or at least want to - wrest control back to the level of the member state. But they also provide a scapegoat, in the form of immigrants. And Golden Dawn of course famously had these food handouts that were for Greek citizens and not for immigrants."
In the Netherlands, the third-biggest party, the Party for Freedom, is known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric.
But the party's leader, Geert Wilders, denies it's an extreme party.
He told the ABC it's merely responding to problems faced by ordinary Dutch citizens.
"I believe that we should stop the immigration, the mass immigration, from Islamic countries. And I believe the Muslims that are in our society today are of course equal as anyone else so long as they adhere to our laws, to our constitution, to our values. And if they cross this red line, if they commit crimes, if they start beating up women, if they start genital mutilation, if they start to commit honour crimes and honour killings as they unfortunately do in Western Europe many times, I believe we should expel them, the same day if possible, from our country."
Monash University's Dr Ben Wellings says despite the perceived unity of the European Union, tensions are rising.
"It's going to make life harder for minorities because as the push from the far right comes, and there is then this tendency for political parties to respond to elements of their programs, some groups are going to lose out there. And it will make life harder for minorities and it does tend to have this effect of allowing behaviours at a micro or a street level that perhaps wouldn't be sanctioned or accepted in previous times. So individual acts of racist violence for example can be seen as so-called more justifiable or more legitimate."
The French National Front and the Dutch Party for Freedom have forged an alliance for 2014's European Parliament elections, to try to get a bigger voice in the new Parliament.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen told Russian TV parties like hers will attract more than just a protest vote.
"I think next year's European elections are going to be a huge upheaval. Because patriotic parties like my own are growing in popularity in all countries across Europe. All peoples are starting to reject the European Union, which is a deeply undemocratic system that has failed. And I think the majority in the European Parliament can change next year. And it's true it will be a change in direction, which I think will be a good thing."
Monash University's Dr Wellings says while far right parties are typically fractured on nationalistic lines, the French-Dutch alliance could be successful on a eurosceptics platform.
"If we get a low voter turnout - and that turnout has been trending downward since the elections for the European Parliament began in 1979 - we may get a disproportionate influence of those far right or anti-Europe, eurosceptic parties showing up. And that may possibly produce the most anti-European, European Parliament we've seen yet."
Hong Kong University's Professor Auer says far right parties could threaten the single euro currency and the EU itself, if the economic crisis doesn't resolve.
"It (the economic crisis) revived the old hostilities between the nations of Europe and it appears to be locking entire nations into the disadvantageous position vis-a-vis the centre - say Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, as opposed to Germany, Austria. So that problem is not going away any time soon and then the mainstream elites are in no position to placate the fears of the electorate because they cannot deliver the goods. So with 60 per cent youth unemployment in Greece, any lofty rhetoric about European unity sounds hollow and that is where the extreme right have, in the eyes of the electorate, much more credibility."
But Professor Auer says it's unclear if the current crop of right-wing parties could deliver the change voters want.
"I wouldn't expect the representatives of the Golden Dawn party to have credible, sophisticated scenarios as to how to restore Greek competitiveness but in France, for example, Front Nationale led by Marine Le Pen also advocates for France to leave the single currency or possibly even the European Union but whether she has any idea about what would follow after that, that's a different question."