To many, the forming of a coali tion govern ment between the conser vat ive Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) and the radical right-wing popu list Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) in February 2000 meant the cross ing of a border-line. Among the many domestic protest activ it ies in Austria, the so-called ‘Thursday marches’ became a regular focal point of public mobil isa tion. The EU sans Austria took an unpre ced en ted step in condemning unan im ously the Vienna coali tion govern ment and impos ing sanc tions on a demo crat ic ally elected govern ment of a member country, lifted later in September 2000 after a report on the polit ical situ ation in Austria was submit ted to the EU by the ‘three sages’. However, the FPÖ is not the first far right party to enter a national govern ment of an EU member state. In 1994, the Italian neo-fascist National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale, AN) – a redesigned Social Italian Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, MSI) under the lead er ship of Gianfranco Fini – joined Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (roughly: Go for It, Italy!) and Umberto Bossi’s Northern League (Lega Nord) in a coali tion govern ment in Rome: the first new – and short-lived – govern ment after the breakdown of the partito crazia. After the recent parlia ment ary elec tions in Italy in April 2001, this coali tion has returned to power for a second attempt. Moreover, in the late 1990s, there were four mayors in medium-sized cities in south ern France who belonged either to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front (Front National, FN), or to the splinter of the Mégretist wing, the National Republican Movement (Mouvement National Républicain, MNR), only one of whom (in Toulon) was forced out of office in the French muni cipal elec tions in March 2001. But despite these cases of far right parties in the exec ut ive of Western demo cra cies, and

many more in parlia ments, there is hardly any research on their perform ance and impact. International compar is ons of contem por ary radical right-wing parties rather tend to focus on the nature of such parties and the reasons for their rise. In contrast, this article attempts to analyse the role of the radical right in the polit ical process, in partic u lar its func tion and impact at the legis lat ive and exec ut ive levels as well as the effects eman at ing from the inter ac tion between the radical right and the estab lished actors. The research is driven by the hypo thesis that under the condi tions of stable demo cracy, holding office produces a net result in a ‘taming effect’ on radical right-wing actors rather than an overall sharp ‘right turn’ in the country. In order to put the Austrian case in perspect ive, the article analyses various recent country

cases where the radical right has conquered public office in the legis lat ive and exec ut ive branches of govern ment at national, supra na tional and sub-national levels. The selec tion of the country cases is guided by the idea that in order to analyse the inter ac tion of these parties and other polit ical actors and to study the effects thereof, it is useful to contrast differ ences in the struc ture of party compet i tion and elect oral system on the one hand, and polit ical culture

and the role of the country’s past on the other.1 The four cases chosen here are Austria, Italy, France and Germany. The German case devi ates from the other three in that the parties of the far right do not hold any exec ut ive office, but both the Republicans (Republikaner, REP) and the German People’s Union (Deutsche Volksunion, DVU) hold, or until recently have held, seats in various state parlia ments and in the European parlia ment. While this is a rather marginal case of parlia ment ary repres ent a tion compared with coun tries like Belgium or Norway, it is useful for a variety of reasons. First, Germany, along with Italy, repres ents a case where the fascist past has clearly stig mat ised for a long time anything that smacks of right-wing radic al ism in the public discourse as well as the party system and thus shaped party compet i tion and inter ac tion. On the other hand, Germany and Austria belong to the category of states where party compet i tion has long been concen trated in the ‘centre’, with a limited number of actors, while the French and Italian party systems are char ac ter ised by higher degrees of frag ment a tion and polar isa tion. Finally, the inclu sion of Germany as a case of a some what success ful margin al isa tion of radical right-wing parties at the national level offers some insights into the possible costs, or indir ect effects, of such margin al isa tion strategies as compared with the other three coun tries.