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Europe's right-wing surge

Elections lay bare immigration angst. Serbia starts on path to EU membership. Back to haunt Europe, the Lisbon Treaty debate resurrected. Diaper power hits European Parliament.

Sweden Democrats protest

Top news: From Vienna to Amsterdam to Stockholm, Europe has seen gains in recent weeks by far-right parties once regarded as political pariahs but now growing in popularity, while mainstream politicians have allied themselves with the rightists or hardened their own line on issues such as immigration.

The developments are raising questions about the nature of Europe’s multicultural society after decades of immigration, particularly from Muslim nations, as the new nationalist political forces play on fears that Islam is undermining traditional European values.

Dutch voters made Geert Wilders, the anti-Islamic leader of the Party of Freedom, kingmaker in negotiations to build a government after elections back in June. Following  months of negotiations, a minority center-right coalition took office on Oct. 14. Wilders did not join the administration, but the government depends on the votes of his party in parliament for survival and he’s demanding a tougher line on integration for the country’s Muslim minority.

Sweden’s elections in late September saw a surge in support for the Sweden Democrats, who want to restrict immigration and reject the concept of multiculturalism.

Events have taken a darker turn since the election in the southern city of Malmo where a gunman has targeted people of immigrant origin in a series of attacks that have spread panic in the city.

In Austria, the Freedom Party took second place in elections to the Vienna city parliament, winning 27 percent of the vote in the capital, up more than 12 percent on the previous vote in 2005. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache has warned against what he calls the Islamization of Europe and wants a referendum to restrict the building of mosques.

In England a new anti-Muslim movement has made headlines with a series of demonstrations around the country, some of which have turned violent.

Faced with the growth of right-wing support, mainstream politicians have responded by posing their own questions about immigration. After France’s summer crackdown against Gypsy immigrants from eastern Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany’s model of multicultural society had failed, saying the mostly Turkish immigrants in the country should do more to integrate into German society.

Amidst all the talk of growing nationalism, Slovenia struck a blow for tolerance when voters in the coastal city of Piran elected a Ghanaian-born doctor as the first black mayor in eastern Europe. “I have no problems at all and I think people no longer see the color of my skin when they look at me," said Peter Bossman, who moved to what was then Yugoslavia to study medicine in the 1980s.

Slovenia’s former Yugoslav partner Serbia took a step toward joining the EU when the EU nations asked the body’s head office to start preparations for membership after the country suffered years of isolation following the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Money: The EU’s fall summit was dominated by economics as Germany and France sought successfully to push the others into accepting a tightening of the rules to prevent a repeat of Greece’s near economic meltdown early this year.

The deal struck in the wee hours of Oct. 29 will give the EU more power to keep an eye on nations whose budget deficits are running out of control and enable other members to impose financial sanctions on them as a punishment for undermining the stability of the euro.

The EU will also set up a permanent fund so that eurozone nations teetering on the brink of bankruptcy can be bailed out in extremis.

One potential problem with the new package is that Merkel said it had to be cast in stone through an amendment of the Lisbon Treaty — the charter that underpins the whole European Union. That Treaty was only adopted last December after a decade of wrangling and many fear that delving back into it, even for relatively minor changes, could give eurosceptic politicians the opportunity to demand wider changes or even call new referendums on the treaty.

Elsewhere: Italian legislator Licia Ronzulli, 35, brought some smiles to the European Parliament when she brought her baby into the assembly for a vote to raise the minimum maternity leave in the European Union from 14 to 20 weeks, while also giving fathers the right to two weeks paid leave.

Little Victoria, born in August, managed to sleep through the session, while the motion passed by a narrow 327 votes to 320. However before it become law, governments in the EU nations will also have to approve the increased time off for new moms and several were quick to dismiss the idea as too costly.