The horrifying attacks that hit Paris last week, killing at least 130 people, seem set to fuel the rise of the already strong far-right parties across Europe.
Even before the attacks, for which the group ISIS has claimed responsibility, Europe’s tolerance toward the hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees flowing into the continent had started to fade.
And it has proven to be a windfall for the far-right throughout Europe. In France, the far-right National Front party has surged. The Sweden Democrats, in their country, have experienced a similar phenomenon. And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has endured one of the most tumultuous stretches of her political career amid the migrant crisis.
Only a few years ago, reverting to a pre-Schengen agreement — referring to the 1985 accord that allows for the free movement of people and goods across the European Union — would have been regarded as nearly impossible. Today, it seems more and more like a very tangible possibility.
“We haven’t heard rhetoric like this in Europe since the 1930s. It really worries me,” Morgan Johnansson, Sweden’s migration minister, told the BBC days before the Paris attacks.
Over the past week across Europe — and in the US, too — calls to stop taking in refugees, for more surveillance and for tighter border security have become overpowering.
The politicization resulting from the Paris attacks began Saturday. In Lille, a city in the north of France, anti-Islam protests broke out at a rally calling for unity.
‘It made Bush seem restrained’
Marine Le Pen, the head of the Front National party in France, wasted little time after the attacks in displaying her rising clout.
In a speech the day after the attacks, she declared that “France and the French are no longer safe.” She insisted on the importance of re-establishing border controls in France, something that seems to have struck a chord with much of the increasingly anxious public.
“No matter what the European Union says about this, it is essential that France regains control of its border, for good. Without borders, there is no protection or security possible,” Le Pen said.
Her speech about the attacks was widely shared on social media, and it even appeared to bring in some who were previously sceptical. Among the more typical reactions: “I don’t normally like her, but she is right.”
Yet, French President François Hollande’s perceived strong reaction might yet spur others against aligning with the far-right party in December’s upcoming regional election.
Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College in London, said Hollande’s reaction thus far — France pounded ISIS’ stronghold in Syria not 48 hours after the Paris attacks — have made former US President George W. Bush’s post-September 11, 2001, response seem “restrained.”
“Francois Hollande set himself up to be the defender of security in France,” Menon said, pointing to the “hawkish speech” the French president delivered after the attacks.
“I thought it made Bush seem restrained in the aftermath of 9/11.”
Hollande’s steps — declaring a state of emergency, closing France’s borders, and upping its military campaign against ISIS — helped him appear as a determined, driving force inside an increasingly distraught Europe.
“Hollande has cast himself as a national symbol of unity,” Menon said.
Others have also drawn parallels between the 1995 terrorist attacks on the Parisian metro system and the ensuing rise in support for the Front National. Menon said there are two big differences between the two sets of attacks.
“Today, the Front National is already polling as high as they probably will,” Menon said, alluding to the fact that the far-right party is now already among the most popular parties in France and may not have much more room to grow.
According to the last seven polls — spanning from July 2014 to November 2015 — conduced by the French public-opinion institute Ifop, Le Pen has led each time when voters are asked, “If the next presidential election was next week, which candidate would have the best chance of getting your vote?”
As Menon suggested, it’s unclear whether Le Pen has room to expand.
The second difference between the pair of attacks, Menon argued, is the fact that ISIS remains viewed largely as a foreign entity that France is bombing abroad. Menon said this frame more favourably casts the image of a government that is acting vigorously against the threat abroad, rather than against homegrown extremists.
‘A free country facing chaos’
Still, far-right parties have been gaining momentum in Europe over the last few years, and the recent refugee crisis has intensified their already strong positions. And the attacks on the “City of Light” could further cement their lead in not only France, but also a slew of other countries in the European Union.
In an article published in the UK magazine Prospect, University of Kent Matthew Goodwin wrote that far-right groups across Europe are garnering support because they have recognised “that public anxieties over migration, refugees and Islam are as much about perceived threats to their cultural security, values and ways of life as they are about welfare states and the distribution of resources.”
The attacks on Paris could therefore further cement their lead in many countries throughout the continent, as fears grow of further attacks and of the possibility that terrorists could hide among the Syrian refugee population. (A refugee passport was found on the body of one of the attackers, but the circumstances of how it ended up there are not clear.)
“We have images of refugees every day, and now, terrorism,” Nonna Mayer, of the CNRS research institute, told The New York Times
. “The National Front has been saying, ‘We have been warning you for the last 10 years.’ At first sight it will help their dynamic, which is already excellent.”
In Sweden, the country’s far-right party, the Sweden Democrats, received more than 12% of the vote in last year’s election. In Austria, the anti-immigration Freedom Party received just more than 20% of the votes in 2013.
And in Germany, Merkel’s popularity has been tumbling since she announced her open-door policy. According to a poll conducted last week, the AFD (Germany’s far-right party) is now the third-most popular party in the country.
And, even if the Front National and other far-right parties do not get added support following the attacks, their dynamic has placed current governments under more and more pressure to take drastic measures against real and perceived threats.
The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, unveiled on Thursday a new security bill that would strip those convicted of terrorism of their French nationality.
“This bill will also encourage the closing of mosques if they become too radical,” Valls said. “This bill is the answer for the right of a free country facing chaos.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.