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What's taking place on the rest of the continent while no one's paying attention.
LISBON, Portugal — Some important developments are taking place in Europe and few are paying attention. Here's a look.
The end of two-party politics in France? (AFP/Getty Images)
The National Front, an anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist, euro-skeptic hard-line conservative party (they don't like to be called extreme right any more) scored its best-ever result in France's municipal elections on Sunday. "It's the end of two-party politics in France," proclaimed party leader Marine Le Pen. "The National Front has arrived as a major independent political force at the national and local level." Well, maybe. The Front got 7 percent of the vote across the country, compared to 43 percent for President Francois Hollande's ruling Socialists and 48 percent for the center-right. Of France's 36,000 municipalities, the Front only captured one outright — the former coal mining town of Henin-Beaumont, a long time Socialist stronghold — although it will go into next week's second round leading in several others. Traditionally however, French voters tend to revert back to the mainstream parties in the second round, having registered their dissatisfaction with a first round protest. Despite those reservations, the result is a major boost for Le Pen that came despite her father — the party's founder and figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen — having heaped praise on Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea during a TV interview last week. The party can expect to do well again in European Parliament elections in late May, when many believe voters will again vent their unhappiness about the mainstream's inability to cut unemployment and boost the economy.
(ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Remember Slobodan Milosevic — the Serbian strongman who launched bloody warfare across former Yugoslavia in the 1990s? His onetime spokesman just got himself elected prime minister in elections that one opponent described as a "political tsunami." Milosevic's former information minister Aleksandar Vucic is set to become Serbia's new premier after his Progressive Party won 158 of the 250 seats in parliament — a majority unprecedented since Serbia turned to democracy in 2000. However, the youthful firebrand who praised Bosnian Serb genocide suspects, cracked down on critical media and demanded neighboring lands be annexed to a "Greater Serbia" has since mellowed. Now 44, Vucic presents himself as liberal reformer determined to clean up corruption, modernize the economy and set Serbia on the path toward European Union membership. As deputy prime minister in the outgoing coalition government, he won Western praise for his role in breakthrough talks with the authorities in Kosovo. He's also moved to build better relations with Croatia. Bosnia's leader says Vucic as prime minister will be welcome to visit Sarajevo, calling him a symbol of “positive policy change.”
President of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia.(ALBERTO PIZZOLI AFP/Getty Images)
While Crimea was holding its referendum to split with Ukraine, 2 million citizens in Venice and its surrounding Veneto region began voting in an online vote on breaking away from Italy. Polling was open for a week and results released on Saturday showed 89 percent wanted Italy's richest region to secede. "Veneto is the region that has been supporting financially Italy," independence movement spokesman Lodovico Pizzati told Russia's RT television, which perhaps unsurprisingly has given widespread coverage to the vote. The referendum is unofficial, not legally binding and was largely ignored by the authorities in Rome. However, the bid to resurrect the Venetian Republic — which was an independent and sometimes powerful state for centuries before Napoleon abolished it in the 1790s — is another manifestation of a powerful dissatisfaction with mainstream politics in Italy. It underlines the scale of the task facing the young new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi as he embarks on economic and political reform program. The scale of support for Venice's bid to break away will also be welcomed in Scotland and Catalonia as they prepare their own independence referenda later this year.
A Turkish imam taking a crash course to learn Dutch.(ROBIN UTRECHT AFP/Getty Images)
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders has been riding high in the opinion polls and his Freedom Party was predicted to come out top in May's European Parliament election. Then he took his anti-immigrant campaign to The Hague last week. After entering a rally to the sound of "Eye of the Tiger," he asked a crowd of supporters if they want more or fewer Moroccans living in the country. "Fewer, Fewer!" his backers chanted back. "Don't worry, we'll take care of that, " Wilders replied with a smile. After a video of the event hit YouTube, German journalists quickly drew parallels to Nazi propaganda rallies. Wilders suddenly saw his poll ratings tumble and senior members of his party — including the group's leader in the European Parliament — quit. Moroccans, along with Turks, Germans and Indonesians, are among the largest minority communities in the Netherlands. Faced with the backlash to his speech, Wilders claimed he was not talking about all Moroccans, only those with criminal backgrounds.
(Pablo Blazquez Dominguez Getty Images)
The euro zone debt crisis may have faded from the headlines, but anyone needing a reminder of the pain still being felt by many in southern Europe's still-stagnant economies need only to head to Madrid this weekend. Tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the capital from all parts of the country — many by foot — to take part in a "March for Dignity" to protest against austerity measures that have left a quarter of the workforce unemployed. The protest was peaceful until violence broke out on the fringes late on Saturday, leaving 101 injured, including 69 police officers. Twenty-four people were arrested as banks and a historic cafe were trashed. There are tentative signs of recovery in the economies of Spain and other southern European countries, but hardship remains particularly strong among young people. Youth unemployment is running at 59 percent in Greece, 54 percent in Spain and 42 percent in Italy.
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