European nationalist parties are enjoying a worrying surge of support on the back of the continent’s migrant crisis, a development that has been largely overlooked.
The rise of far-right parties in Europe — like the Front National in France or Golden Dawn in Greece — has been a major story over the last few years, but recent developments have received much less attention even though their gains have been more dramatic.
In several elections in the last month, radical parties to the right of Europe’s mainstream conservatives are gaining strength. Opinion polls in other countries paint the same picture.
Few people pay attention to Swiss elections, and most people can’t name the country’s political leaders. Since most major decisions go to referendums, either at the national or local level, there’s not quite as much for legislators to do. But this weekend the populist and right-wing Swiss People’s Party won 29.4% of the vote, the largest proportion ever, after a campaign that focused on migration. According to the BBC it is being referred to as a “rechtsrutsch,” or a slide to the right.
The Swiss People’s Party is perhaps known best internationally for its use of pretty openly racist posters.
In Austria, there’s been quiet momentum behind the far-right Freedom Party too. In late September, the party nudged the mainstream centre-left party out of second place in a state elections in Upper Austria. In 2010, one of the party’s slogans was “mehr mut für unser Wiener blut,” or “more courage for our Viennese blood.”
In Vienna earlier this month, the social democrats won 39% of the vote, holding onto control, but the Freedom Party were hot on their heels, pulling in 31%. The centre-left party has been in power in the city since the end of the Second World War, and there was genuine concern that they could lose in one of Europe’s cosmopolitan capital cities.
What’s more, all polls since May have shown the far-right party in the lead or drawn for the lead, some recent ones by as much as 10 percentage points.
Like Swiss federal elections, it’s reasonable to assume many people aren’t paying attention to Austrian regional elections. But the strength of the far right doesn’t end there.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ PVV is 18 points aheadof the governing VVD in the latest polls.Marine Le Pen’s National Front leads in most polls in France.In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s Northern League is riding high.
In regional elections this year, it gained its best ever results in the five contested areas. In Veneto, the new Northern League governor immediately ordered the dissolution of migrant reception centres.
The parties have a less coherent view on economics, but share a eurosceptic and anti-migrant platform.
Salvini, Le Pen, Wilders and Christian-Stache (the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party) wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a snippet:
The situation is completely out of control. Too many fortune seekers, too much illiteracy. Some of the migrants are refugees, but the majority come for economic reasons. Our European economies and social-protection systems cannot cope with this. The media prefer to focus on families and children, but their images cannot conceal that the asylum seekers flocking to Europe are predominantly young men. Many are unskilled …
The European Union has slowly been eroding Europe’s nation-states by gradually dismantling their sovereignty. It has robbed our countries of the right to conduct our own national asylum policies
The parties appeal to feelings of insecurity and instability, as well as a perception that control is being wrestled away from the institutions they know and understand, co-opted by distant and sneering cosmopolitan bureaucrats. Their way of life has been put under pressure and the people in charge basically don’t care.
Progressive Scandinavia isn’t exempt from the changes either. The Swedish Democrats surged to 3rd place in elections in September 2014, from 6th in 2010. A handful of polls since August have put them in first place, and several more have put them in second, behind the centre-left governing party.
The Danish People’s Party came second in elections in June 2015, beating Denmark’s main traditional centre-right party.
It’s not universal. Spain and Germany don’t seem to have right-wing populist parties with the same sort of levels of support, though Angela Merkel’s popularity has clearly begun to ebb over recent months.
In the United Kingdom, UKIP support seems to have peaked and fallen back a little — though it’s uncharitable to UKIP to compare it to some of the parties listed here, they’re all playing for the same disaffected demographic.
But in much of Europe far-right parties are steadily and constantly gaining ground. They’re pressing against the invisible boundary that separates fringe groups from mainstream politics, and seem to be testing whether the distinction exists at all anymore.
Most are deliberately isolated from the process of political coalition-building, but some already exert influence on a national level — after the 2010 election, the Dutch government relied on the tacit support of the PVV to survive.
Many will have to sustain momentum for several years if they want to perform as well as they currently are in polls. What they can guarantee is that they will have ample conditions. Europe’s monetary union no longer seems to be under existential threat, as it was from 2010 to 2012, but growth is modest at best. There is very little to provide a feelgood factor.
What’s more, the colossal movement of migrants and refugees into Europe isn’t likely to stop or even slow anytime soon. According to a leaked document, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees sees at least 700,000 people seeking asylum in Europe this year, and a similar or “even greater” number in 2016.
At the moment, it seems like only a matter of time until one of these parties truly transforms the political makeup of Europe by breaking through and leading a government — just don’t be surprised when it happens.
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