Is the Far-Right Europe’s Future?
Looking beyond Brexit, European affairs will soon turn to elections, specifically in the European Parliament.
With elections set to take place on the 23rd of May later this year, alarms are beginning to ring across Europe as the far-right continues to increase its popularity. This trend will pose a serious threat to the already-wavering momentum for the so-called “European project”, and the parties and governments which push for its development.
The current situation
The European Parliament is home to 751 MEPs, with its last election being in 2014. As it stands at the moment, a collection of centrist European Parliamentary groups, such as the ‘European People’s Party’ (EPP) have overall control but are faced with considerable opposition from a number of right-wing populist groups, such as ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ (EFDD), which has 41 MEPs.
In terms of domestic politics, far-right groups are strengthening. In Germany, the AfD has become the third-largest political party, securing 94 seats in the Bundestag while traditional centrist parties such as Angela Merkel’s CDU witnessed significant defeats.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) has consolidated its position as the leading opposition to Emmanuel Macron’s ‘En Marche!’ party. Though it secured just 33.9% of the vote in 2017, the very fact that they progressed to the second round, the first time they did so since 2002, is a worrying sign for the mainstream parties in France, particularly the Republicans who faced a massive drop in popularity despite previously governing the country.
And in Italy, a country wrought with economic problems and political troubles has witnessed a shift to the right too, with the ‘Five Star Movement’ securing 227 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 112 seats in the Senate of the Republic.
The trend continues in other countries such as Spain, and of course the UK with the Brexit vote and flirtations with right-wing politics within the Conservative Party and the emergence of the ‘Brexit Party’.
The issues which have caused this rise are rooted in immigration, resentment towards the European project, and Islamophobia. Immigration was a front-running issue during the Brexit vote and has also driven attitudes in countries such as Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, a country that has taken a particularly anti-immigrant stance during the refugee crisis. In August of last year, Orbán spoke of fighting “pro-migrant policies” supported by the likes of Macron and sought to form a coalition or bloc with Italian interior minister, Matteo Silvini, to oppose migration. In 2017, Alexander Gauland, the co-leader of Germany’s AfD, spoke of fighting “an invasion of foreigners” coming into the country. In short, it’s obvious that issues like the refugee crisis, caused by ongoing conflicts in North Africa and beyond, have encouraged a rise in the far-right as a form of opposition towards increased migration from these regions.
Islamophobia is another issue to consider in conjunction with immigration, due to many of the migrants arriving in Europe, from regions such as the Middle East, being Muslim. Conflict isn’t the only reason for their migration- poverty and even climate change are influential reasons.
Nonetheless, it has led to Islamophobic comments being made by right-wing, populist, figures in Europe. For example, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch ‘Party for Freedom’, regarded the arrival of migrants as an “Islamic invasion”.
Among other reasons is the backlash towards the European project, a process of closer political and economic ties between the Member States of the European Union. The impact of the euro has been astoundingly bad for smaller countries in the bloc, such as Greece whose unemployment rates hover around 50%. Youth unemployment is a particular problem for Europe, as shown in October of 2016 when 4.1 million people under 25 were unemployed in the EU, and 2.9 million of them were living in the eurozone. A debt crisis in Greece has continued to plague the country’s fortunes for over a decade, with it receiving the biggest financial rescue of a bankrupt country in history, in exchange for destructive austerity measures that continue to create misery for Greeks. In other words, the European Union might work for some, such as the leading countries of France and Germany, but for countries like Spain and Greece, it seems like the pursuit for an ‘ever-closer union’ has not worked out so well, and that only feeds the far-right and their anti-establishment, anti-EU agendas.
The future for European politics, at the moment at least, looks destined to go hand-in-hand with the far-right. At best, there will merely be an increased influence from within the European Parliament and across domestic politics. At worst, we could be witnessing outright coalitions or control by the far-right, pushing forward agendas which leave the European project in peril, as well as those it includes, such as the thousands of migrants coming to the continent for safety and a new life.
Brexit has not helped, but the chaos that’s being caused in the UK might just send a message of hope that the EU is the best option moving forward for the other Member States. To combat this rise, however, will take tactical coalitions and unity across the political spectrum, from the radical left to the centre-right. The project of European togetherness needs to be strengthened and refreshed, acknowledging problems that have been caused by it, such as the euro’s negative economic effects on countries such as Spain and Greece. The future of frameworks like the Schengen Area and the Four Freedoms need to be reinforced in light of the migrant crisis, but in a sustainable way that enables countries to fairly share the number of migrants coming to the continent. Media portrayals of these migrants, however, need to be transformed. Aggressive rhetoric and negative imagery based on the actions of the few need to be eliminated, and mainstream political groups need to become more media-savvy to combat the far-right presence online and their influence across social media. Ideals of social democracy, European liberalism and inclusivity as part of a progressive umbrella need to be reiterated and emphasised by liberal parties. It’s not too late to reverse the rise of the far-right, but it’s getting to a point where it could very well be irreversible.
The European Parliament elections are just the start of what might be a dark future for Europe, should it go unchanged.