In Brief... World News Review: Austria and Switzerland Move Right.

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In Brief... World News Review

Austria and Switzerland Move Right.

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Today, left-of-center governments dominate much of Western and Central Europe. However, there are certain signs of a movement towards the far right in at least two European states.

Most alarming is the emergence of Jörg Haider's Freedom Party as the second largest political force in the Austrian legislature. He is known for his alleged pro-Nazi pronouncements and qualified praise of Hitler. Haider has traveled to London to silence alarm bells set off in the West by his controversial statements about the Third Reich.

This rightward direction has potentially sinister implications for the whole of Europe. History Today assistant editor Nigel Jones wrote in the respected British weekly magazine, The Spectator:

"To dismiss this election…as a mere blip on Europe's smooth progress towards a social democratic paradise, would be unwise…. The forces that have brought Haider within reach of power in Vienna are also astir in Austria's giant neighbor, Germany. The German political establishment is scarcely more popular with its voters than in Austria.

"But the German far-right lacks a charismatic leader. Already Haider has begun to make trips to Bavaria to address meetings of like-minded Germans, who have given him an ecstatic reception. Haider would not be the calculating politician he is if the thought 'Today Vienna, tomorrow Berlin' had not entered his handsome head. An Anschluss in reverse? Stranger things have happened" (emphasis added).

Three weeks after Austrian voters had boosted the ultra right, neighboring Switzerland followed suit. Christopher Blocher's extreme Swiss People's Party made huge gains in the federal elections, which places him in a strong position to play a significant role in a future coalition government. He is known for his highly controversial views about the Holocaust.

This change in the Swiss political landscape will enable Mr. Blocher, a 59-year-old businessman, to more effectively push his ideas on the wider socioeconomic scene. And as The Economist observed, "Like any disgruntled Swiss [citizen], he can set out to veto, change or even launch major legislation through the machinery of direct democracy."

Even without a major rightist movement affecting the whole of Europe, the European Continent is predicted to expand its economic power and political role in this decade. Reporting from Paris for The Los Angeles Times, John-Thor Dahlburg observed that "the coming decade should be one of momentous, if plodding and confusing, change in Europe, and of growing power and assertiveness that the United States will be forced to heed. Already the world's largest trading bloc at 15 members, the European Union by 2010 may count 20 to 30 members and ultimately as many as 35."

What makes the growing power of Europe so potentially hazardous is the possibility of extreme political forces taking hold. ( The Spectator; The Economist; The Guardian; Sunday Times; Sunday Telegraph; Independent on Sunday; Daily Mail (all London); The Los Angeles Times )