People in Britain and the Netherlands have already voted (or, in most cases, not voted) in the European elections. Ireland and the Czech Republic go to the polls today. But the official results won't be published until Sunday night after people in all 28 EU countries have had a chance to cast their ballot. That said, we already have an idea of how people voted yesterday. If the England local election results are anything to go by, UKIP has, regrettably, done well. In the Netherlands, though, exit polls suggest that Geert Wilders' extremist xenophobic PVV has flopped. It had expected to come top with 23% of the vote; instead it appears to have slumped into fourth place, with 12.2%. That might not seem like a big deal for people outside Holland, but it greatly undermines the far-right's chances of forming an official group in the new European Parliament.
Obviously, exit polls can be wrong. But they're unlikely to be that wrong. So it's great news that in at least one country where the peddlers of hate were expected to do well, a social liberal party (Democrats 66) is likely to come top instead. Wilders, who made his name as an anti-Islam ranter, has more recently focused his anger at the EU, a popular message in a recession-hit country squeezed by EU-mandated austerity. But he reverted to form when he called for "fewer Moroccans" just before voting. Perhaps he was punished for his racism. Wilders himself blames the low turnout (37%), but that seems implausible. Turnout was low in the 2009 elections too and Wilders did better then. A low turnout normally helps extremist parties, whose supporters tend to be more motivated to turn out to express their anger than more moderate, middle-of-the-road types.
Wilders' apparent setback is a blow to plans to establish a far-right group in the European Parliament, along with Marine Le Pen's National Front in France and other unsavoury characters. To form such a group, which would give them more clout in the Parliament and more money, the "European Alliance for Freedom" (sic) needs 25 MEPs from at least seven European countries.
Since that represents only 3% of the 751 seats in the Parliament, it might not sound too difficult. After all, there are xenophobic parties in nearly every EU country and many of them have been polling well, successfully fusing anti-EU and anti-immigrant messages. Fortunately, though, xenophobic parties tend to find it hard to form international alliances - after all, they dislike foreigners - and Europe's are a motley crew. For example, UKIP is pro-Israel and anti-gay, France's National Front has traditionally been anti-Israel and anti-gay, while Geert Wilders' PVV is pro-Israel and pro-gay marriage. So while Wilders and Le Pen managed to bridge their differences, only a few of Europe's xenophobes make common cause with them - and their fellow travellers are smaller parties from smaller countries, such as Austria's Freedom Party, the Sweden Democrats and Belgium's Vlaams Belang.
With Wilders apparently crashing and UKIP so far refusing to pitch in with them, the far-right's hope of forming a group rest even more on the shoulders of Le Pen, who is widely expected to top the French poll. Is it too much to hope that she might flop too?