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Home / World News / Rise of the right in 2016: Europe’s political landscape has changed

Rise of the right in 2016: Europe’s political landscape has changed

Syrian refugees and terror attacks have paved the way for right-wing parties and personalities to prosper. Anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-Muslim platforms are now shaping politics in Europe.

world Updated: Dec 28, 2016 16:10 IST
Sushil Aaron
Sushil Aaron
Hindustan Times
Donald Trump’s win still boggles liberals, who wonder if his election will bolster right-wing forces elsewhere in the world.
Donald Trump’s win still boggles liberals, who wonder if his election will bolster right-wing forces elsewhere in the world. (REUTERS)

That Donald Trump will be the president of the United States is a thought that still boggles many. Liberals are particularly in shock; they are attempting to understand how they could misread the extent of his appeal and wonder if his election will bolster right-wing forces elsewhere in the world.

This fear is palpable in Europe where analysts warn that a significant reordering of the political landscape is underway. This is not surprising as Europe has not been at peace with itself in recent years. The 2008 financial crash severely dented its economies, sparking a debt crisis and generated high levels of unemployment. This in turn led to debates within countries about immigrants, foreigners, assimilation, national identity and so on. The surge of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and periodic terrorist attacks added to the fraught climate, creating the context for right-wing parties and personalities to prosper. The European Union’s policies of integration have been blamed for the situation and thus anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim platforms have gained ground.

The effects have spread far and wide. Right-wing parties – which span the ideological spectrum from conventional right of Centre formations to far-right groups, have increased support across the continent, including in France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Italy. Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party in Austria lost a rerun of the presidential election to a Greens-backed independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen this month but secured 48.3% of the vote. The Danish People’s Party came in second in the June 2015 parliamentary elections. The far-right Party for Freedom in Netherlands, whose leader Geert Wilders was recently found guilty of inciting racial discrimination, is expected to come in first or second in elections due in March. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, led by Frauke Petry, secured 2 million votes in 2013 elections, it has done well in regional parliaments and is expected to win seats in parliament next year.

Read more | From Panama Papers to presidents’ impeachments: 2016 marked by corruption scandals

Far-right parties are not in a position to seize power in the continent. Political scientist Cas Mudde has claimed that “a populist radical right candidate has still not won a true electoral majority in any established democracy in the postwar era.” Whether that argument holds for the world is debatable, but it is at least true in Europe. The real concern is not that they will win but that the far-right will decisively shape political debates and forces other parties to mainstream some of its ideas. Angela Merkel of Germany has defended her policy of accepting more than 1 million refugees in 2015 but has recently called for a ban on the full veil or the niqab – a move seen as a response to from pressure from the right. Groups known as identitarians that peddle majoritarian anti-immigrant messages, which are understood as “Europe’s answer to the American ‘alt-right’”, have grown in prominence. The movement has, as the Economist put it, “has a deft way of making xenophobic causes seem palatable to moderates”, its representatives are invited to speak in mainstream media and they are able to repackage ideas effectively for younger audiences.

The big testing ground for the far right’s dynamism and energy is France where Marine Le Pen of the National Front is expected to make it to the second round of presidential elections due in April-May. She will be up against Francois Fillon, the centre-right candidate of the Republicans. Fillon is a social conservative and neoliberal who wants to sack half a million civil servants and reduce public spending by $100 billion over five years. Le Pen is not expected to win. Philosopher John Gray writes, however, that “in a contest with a neoliberal at a time when austerity policies are discredited this outcome can no longer be taken for granted”. “Le Pen could edge closer to power in 2017 and make a convincing run for the presidency after that,” he argues.

Read more | 2016 was a bad year for Indo-Pak ties. What lies ahead?

And then there is foreign interference. Elections in Western democracies are no longer only about what its citizens think. They also appear to be governed by what Russia’s President Vladimir Putin wants. After suspicions that Moscow intervened in favour of Trump through hacking and selective leaks, Europe is anticipating Russia’s intrusion into its own democratic processes. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency recently warned of Russia’s attempts to destabilise the country through hackers and mentioned “growing evidence of attempts to influence the federal election next year”. Analysts fear that Russian hackers will tilt the election in favour Alternative for Germany. Europe is divided over sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea; it is not inconceivable that Putin will back those who are in favour of rapprochement with Moscow. Incidentally both France’s Fillon and as his opponent Le Pen are in favour of improved ties with Moscow. The National Front took a loan of €11 million (euros) in 2014 from a Russian bank and applied for another 27 million loan from Russia to fight elections in 2017.

Russian challenges to European security continue meanwhile. Moscow seized the Crimea in 2014 and it recently deployed nuclear-armed missiles in the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. Analysts wonder if Russia will foment the kind of unrest in Baltic states as it did in Ukraine. Trump’s election has changed the security dynamic because he thinks Europe should pay more for its own security, indicating that he may not be as committed to the continent’s defence as his predecessors have been.

Europe clearly has a lot to contend with: faltering economies, social tensions, majoritarian nationalisms, changing American priorities, Russia’s assertiveness and its attempts to subvert the continent’s democracies to suit its geopolitical purposes. The Right is understandably upbeat in this climate, particularly after Trump’s victory.

United Kingdom
Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party drove the Brexit campaign in July, stoking fears of immigration. PM Theresa May is also fairly hardline on immigration.
Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front, is anti-immigration and wants France out of the EU. She got nearly 18% of the votes in the 2012 presidential polls and is expected to make it to the second round next year.
Austria: Freedom Party says protection of social peace requires Austria to stop immigration. Norbert Hofer lost a rerun of presidential elections but secured 48.3% votes.
PM Viktor Orban, leader of Fidesz, is known for his tough anti-immigration stance. Hungary also has Jobbik, a far-right group which emerged as the third largest party in Parliament.
Democrats, is an anti-immigration hat wants a referendum on EU. Led by Akesson it secured 13% votes in 2014. ngs in opinion polls are improving and s expected to do better in 2018 polls.
Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders wants referendum on the EU. Wilders wants to close mosques, ban the Quran and tax women for wearing hijab.
Alternative for Germany led by Frauke Petry, opposes "Islamification" of Germany and Angela Merkel’s refugee policy.
Lega Nord (Northern League), led by Matteo Salvini, is critical of EU. Polled only 4% in 2013, it has now got 16% in opinion polls.
Golden Dawn is known for extreme anti-immigrant views. Its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and 68 members, are on trail for running a criminal organisation. It secured 7% votes and come third in 2015 polls.

A much aticipated presidential election will take place in France around April-May. The centre right Republican candidate Francois Fillon will be challenged by Marine Le Pen of the national Front. le Pen led in opinion polls in November but is now trailing Fillion with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron coming in third.
Donald Trump has expressed his dissatisfaction with the terms of the NATO alliance, saying that the Europeans have to pay for their own defence and not rely entirely on the United States. Only five countries in the 28-member alliance fulfil their commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. The prospect of an American disengagement from Europe unnerves policymakers on the continent as they face an assertive Russia which seized Crimea and recently deployed nuclear-armed missiles in the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. How Donald Trump evolves in his approach to Europe will be keenly watched.
Elections in Netherlands in March that will likely feature an inflammatory campaign by Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, which is expected to come in first or second.
Federal election in Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel will be seeking a fourth term after eleven years in office. One poll said 55% of Germans would vote for her. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany is expected to win seats in parliament.
The German domestic intelligence agency has warned that Russian hackers seek to sow uncertainty in German society and destabilise the country and has spoken of cyber-espionage in the political arena.