An analysis of the rise of the far-right in Europe

Image source: Politico

The political future of Europe remains murky as the far-right parties are determined to exploit the looming crisis situation to bring their rhetoric to the mainstream. Be it France’s Front Nationale, Germany’s AFD, UKIP in the UK, Italy’s Lega Nord, Spain’s Vox or Victor Orban in Hungary, the far right is either a part of the government or one of the most influential oppositions. This new wave of nativist populism seems to be engulfing Europe right after it first emerged in Austria back in the year 2000.

The case of Austria: The start of the Far Right movement in Europe

On February 4th, 2000, 27% of the votes in the Austrian General elections were polled in favour of the much controversial Freedom Party. It was said that it became the first Far-Right party to get such a large vote share in a European democracy after the Second World War. Jorg Haider, the leader of the party, fuelled his election campaign against the “over-foreignization” of the country and has also proclaimed his support for the warren SS and Hitler’s Labour Laws. His party then went on to join forces with the People’s party and form a coalition government. The members of the European Parliament en masse declared that these advancements “legitimises the extreme right in Europe”. The coalition was condemned internationally. The fourteen members of the EU cut ties with the country and ended cultural exchanges and military exercises. The USA and Israel also recalled their ambassadors from Vienna.

A successor of the Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache led by Sebastian Kurz in 2017 elections was similarly invited to join the ruling Coalition in Vienna. The policies on which he won the elections were also anti-migrants. He called for the shutdown Muslim-run Kindergartens and the relocation of refugees. The only difference this time was in the way the European community reacted. The new government was welcomed and accepted in contrast to being ostracised. This shift clearly shows how the two governments with the same policies, were received in two completely different societies. One, which is completely oblivious to the nativist populist narrative and the other where it has seeped into the mainstream.

Members of Italian far-right political movement CasaPound march with flags near the Colosseum/ Image source: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

The Far Right opportunism in the time of the Pandemic

The rise of the far-right is never a mirror of the society’s xenophobic, nativist or nationalist aspirations. The far-right parties are usually successful in the light of growing discontent towards a failing government in the time of a national crisis. The Pandemic seems to be the perfect tool in the hands of these forces to exploit the national sentiment to further their narrative.

The pandemic to a large extent has given a huge platform to the far-right populist parties to bring their fringe views to the mainstream. The most famous narrative exploited by the parties has been the incompetence of the ruling government and its unnecessary legislation during the Pandemic. The AFD party in Germany recently backed a protest against the coronavirus restrictions enforced by the government in which almost 20,000 people violated the sanitation and hygiene rules. Italy also fell victim to the neo-fascist Forza Nuova organised “freedom” demonstration on Liberation Day, the day that marked the defeat of Benito Mussolini’s fascist forces, regarding social distancing norms. Spain’s Vox aligned itself against the government’s lockdown measures and called the scientist in charge of Spain’s emergency response, Fernando Simón, a psychopath.

There emerged also an anti-migrant discourse in which the far-right has incited the people to ask for stricter anti-migrant legislation and effectively sealing the border by saying that they are the carriers of the disease and the spreaders of it among the citizens. Germany’s AFD has also been involved in spreading Anti Semitic propaganda by blaming the Jews for the outbreak of the Pandemic.

The most important stepping stone for the far-right has historically proven to be an economic turmoil with high rates of unemployment. The Eurozone is set for a record recession and inflation will almost vanish, the European Commission said on May 6.  The history repeats itself yet again as due to the Coronavirus measures, the economy is spiralling downwards and the right-wing parties are looking to take advantage of people’s anxieties to further their interests. The AKD party deputy leader, Sebastian Münzenmaier urged to immediately open up public places and establishments so that people may be able to save their thriving businesses and companies.

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 bill, in Warsaw/ Image source: ALIK KEPLICZ/AFP/Getty Images

Is the Far Right’s opportunism proving to be successful?

Surprisingly, the extreme stance of the far-right is not proving very popular with the masses. In Germany, the AFK’s activities and the huge downplaying of the coronavirus impact in favour of the economy has not been well received by the German citizens as they continue to support the government’s safety measures. According to the statistics by the Politico, It lost 10% points in the polls. Even Spain’s Vox lost a good 14% points. Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s popularity rose by 71% with its far-right League getting knocked 4% down. This by no means has impacted the narrative that the far right is fuelling this Pandemic. It still takes an anti-lockdown and a xenophobic stance to expand its voter base.

To conclude, the emergence of the Freedom Party of Austria gave the far-right forces a push in Europe, who have managed in the last few years to get included in the mainstream and push their propaganda to expand their supporters. As and when there is a crisis situation, it marks a sporadic rise of the far right. The economic slowdown of 2008, the migrant crisis of 2014 and the recent issues of climate change, coronavirus pandemic, and yet another economic crisis, have all seen the far-right parties exploit the resentment and discontent of the people to support their own rhetoric and legitimise it. This has proven to be successful for a lot of leaders who have managed to entrench themselves in a position of power but this time, this seems to be failing.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Apoorva Mishra

Apoorva Mishra is a Former Journalism Intern at The Kootneeti

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