Germany held regional elections in three states this week and for political analysts the major talking point was the success of the far-right, anti-immigration party the Alternative for Germany, known as the AfD.
The results have been interpreted as a rebuke of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-refugee stance, which has seen over one million migrants enter Germany in the past 12 months. Merkel’s Christian Democrat party lost in two of the three states where the elections were held.
The AfD — led by Frauke Petry — made significant gains in all three states, particularly in Saxony-Anhalt where it finished second with 24% of the vote.
In fact, an INSA poll cited by German news site The Local say the AfD is currently Germany’s third-most popular political party. This is a significant development given the strength of the party’s anti-refugee campaign. Petry has previously suggested firearms should be used in certain circumstances against refugees entering Germany.
One would assume such comments are not likely to help with the party’s mission to be seen as a genuine alternative to Germany’s “establishment” options. Yet, the regional election results suggest otherwise.
But Germany is not alone. The map above shows where far-right parties have made significant gains in state and regional elections in Europe since January 2015.
From liberal Scandinavia to the southern reaches of the continent in Greece and Italy, far-right parties by their own standards are showing sizeable growth in multiple nations.
In Denmark, long-standing establishment parties are being squeezed by the emergence of a populist movement fronted by the Danish People’s Party (DPP).
In the 2015 general election, the party recorded 21% of the vote to become Denmark’s second-largest party. It was the DDP’s best performance in its history.
The party may only control 37 of the 179 seats in parliament but its growing public support is reshaping the Danish political landscape with harsher policies such as the seizing of refugees’ valuables starting to be passed.
In Switzerland they have a name for the far-right’s growing influence in their politics — the Swiss call it ‘rechtsrutsch.’
The phrase is being used more and more in Bern, where pressure is being exerted by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which last year recorded its finest parliamentary election result in over a century with nearly 30% of the vote to become the country’s most powerful political force.
The party made notable gains in last year’s regional elections including in Tuscany where it won 20% of the vote. This is unheard of in one of Italy’s traditional left-wing strongholds.
Any talk of Europe being in the midst of a far-right spring is premature. In many nations, such as Spain and Britain, the influence of far-right parties is negligible.
But the success of far-right parties cannot be treated as isolated events. Without question, something is happening across Europe. It may not have reached boiling point — but the bubbles are starting to appear.
Take a look at Poland, where the hard-right Law and Justice party became the first party to govern alone since the restoration of democracy when it swept to a resounding victory in October’s parliamentary elections.
The party has since implemented a law allowing it to seize control of the state media broadcasters as well as senior civil service directors.
Then there’s Slovakia, where in March’s election election 23% of first-time voters backed the neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia party (L’SNS).
For a long time, the prefix “far” denoted distance between parties aggressively-opposed to immigration and the corridors of power. Now, those gaps and being bridged and in a growing number of states right-wing parties are no longer nuisances but realistic parties of office.
Why is this happening? Public mood across Europe is disgruntled right now and there are conditions for populist groups to attract levels of support that years ago they could only dream of.
The mass movement of people from the war-torn Middle East into Europe and the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War has become the single-most dominant political issue across the continent.
Traditional parties from the left and right are facing great challenges. Increasing numbers of people are sick of them and trust in politicians in many states is low. It is within this climate of anger and disenchantment that far-right parties have been able grow.
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