Extreme right and right-wing extremes

, by Ophélie Duprat , Translated by Jasmine Goldstein

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Extreme right and right-wing extremes

It’s a come-back that Europe would have happily avoided: the return of extreme right political parties. One could have assumed that History had left deep enough marks to prevent these from ever regaining a place on the political stage. But it isn’t so. Sweden woke up one Sunday morning of September to find 20 newly elected extreme Right members of Parliament. Last April, it was the Jobbik Party which made a worryingly significant entrance in the Hungarian Parliament (with 47 seats). Everywhere, nationalist parties are gaining popularity. Increasingly, they are coming out with double digit results in national elections in many European States.

The causes of a rebirth

Why this revival? First of all, the economic crisis has played a visible role in this, as it has left many economies wounded, huge rates of unemployment and numerous politicians overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the phenomenon. Secondly, there is immigration, and the defeat of the “multicultural model” which Angela Merkel recently lamented. These two issues have generated anxieties, preoccupation and fears for many citizens. They are the two main arguments used by the new extreme right parties. To revive a strong national ideal, to close up frontiers, to promote a more autarkic economy; these are the proposals of the populist parties which are now flourishing in Europe. Theses usually uneven claims seem to be the expression of a strong voice of protest, of a blunt rejection of the general situation, rather than actual propositions. These movements are characterised mostly by xenophobia, and more particularly a fear of Islam, which they often target.

A change in the European political landscape

These parties are gaining importance and altering the balance of power in European politics. Some States already have to integrate them into their national politics. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi has been cooperating for a few years with the Northern League, of which his Minister of Interior Affairs, Roberto Maroni, is a member. The extreme right has also gained entrance into the Danish government. In the Netherlands, the PVV, another extreme right party, became the third political force of the country last June, thus plunging it into several months of political deadlock, given the difficulty of forming a coalition in such a context. In the countries where these parties are less popular, they are nonetheless present in the debate. In an attempt to keep the problem in check, the established right parties have started to integrate some extreme right ideas into their discourse. As a result, nationalist and at times xenophobic ideas are increasingly appearing everywhere in European political debates.

About a year ago, the Swiss thus voted for the ban of minarets in a referendum, after much controversy. In Germany, it was a book by Thilo Sarrazin, a Social-Democrat, which created much debate: “Germany Does Away With Itself”. In this text, the author argues that the Muslims are bringin Germany down, as well as the average intelligence rates among the population. These extreme claims seem nonetheless to rally the people, as the book has become a best-seller and some polls show that a majority of Germans approve of his reasoning. Although she did condemn the claims made by Thilo Sarrazin, Angela Merkel’s hardening of her approach to immigration - a prominent issue in Germany - was in part caused by the impact of this book. She deplored the “failure of the multicultural model” and has asked migrants to make a greater effort to integrate. The theme of immigration, which up to recently was clearly preferred in the extreme-right discourse, seems indeed to have appeared in the wider political debate.

In France, this issue has been unapologetically taken on since the creation of the « Ministry of Immigration » and the mass deportations to the borders. The debate about « national identity » was yet another step in the same direction. In this context, no one is immune to some objectionable excesses. In the face of this summer’s events, whether it is Nicolas Sarkozy’s talk in Grenoble or the measures taken towards the expulsion of Roms from the country, few remained indifferent, and even within the presidential majority some denounced these excesses. Newsweek even provocatively used a portrait of Nicolas Sarkozy to illustrate an article about the rise of the extreme right in Europe; this lumping together was easy, and probably unnecessary.

That being said, the rise of the extreme right pushes traditional right-wing parties to become extreme in their rhetoric or in their actions. It is difficult to say for now whether this holds back the extreme right’s rise in power, or on the contrary reinforces its influence. Beyond this question, the current popularity of these parties represents a real threat to a Europe built on principles such as religious freedom and open frontiers. We can only hope that Europe will remain united and strong enough to fight this dangerous expansion.

Illustration : European Hemicycle

© European Union PE-EP (http://www.photo-service.europarl.europa.eu)

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