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Rise of the nationalists: a guide to Europe’s far-right parties

Ten political parties leading the far-right surge on the continent.

We are seeing a rise of far-right parties in mainstream European politics. Playing on scepticism about the European Union following the eurozone’s travails, and using racist rhetoric to exploit a migration crisis that has become difficult to contain, these parties are gaining voters in countries across the continent. Here is a guide to the top ten insurgent far-right groups – some new, some established – achieving the most electoral success in Europe:

Alternative für Deutschland

Germany’s AfD has gained representation in ten of the 16 German state parliaments since September 2016. Last year, anti-Islam policies replaced its Eurosceptic focus, the slogan “Islam is not a part of Germany” emerging from the party’s spring conference. Support has slipped in recent months: AfD is polling at 8 per cent and its leaders, Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen, are under pressure after a senior AfD politician made a speech urging Germany to stop atoning for Nazi crimes.


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Jobbik

The nationalist “Movement for a Better Hungary” held its position as the country’s third-largest party in the 2014 parliamentary elections and won a crucial by-election against the right-wing ruling party, Fidesz, a year later. Jobbik’s leader, Gábor Vona, 38, is trying to improve its image by repackaging it as a “people’s party”. It is still hindered by a reputation for anti-Semitism, which rests on its preoccupation with Hungarian ethnicity and hostility towards Israel.

Front National

The French party is enjoying a renaissance after a successful move to “detoxify” the brand under Marine Le Pen, the daughter of its first leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Polling at 26 per cent, Marine is expected to win the first round of voting for the presidential election on 23 April. Anti-immigration rhetoric brought the FN huge gains in the 2015 local elections – it came first in six of France’s 13 regions, beating the two main parties.

Golden Dawn

These Greek neo-fascists use Nazi-style symbolism and have expressed admiration for Hitler’s regime. Their leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos – who in 2012 called the gas chambers “a lie” – rejects the label “neo-Nazi”, preferring “Greek nationalist”. Exploiting the fallout of austerity and the migration crisis, Golden Dawn came third in Greece’s September 2015 election, winning 7 per cent of the vote. At that time, its spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who boasts a swastika tattoo, declared: “Golden Dawn is a movement of power; it is not a protest movement any more.”

Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs

Licking its wounds after narrowly losing Austria’s rerun presidential election to the Greens’ Alexander van der Bellen in December, the FPÖ is trying to secure its clout. Its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, travelled to Trump Tower to congratulate the new US president in January and had a meeting with Donald Trump’s then national security adviser, Mike Flynn. Accused of Nazi sympathies, the FPÖ is vocally anti-Islam. It holds 38 of the 183 seats on Austria’s National Council.

The Finns

The nationalist True Finns emerged from near-obscurity to become the third-largest party in Finland in 2011. “Revolution!” the press declared, as they won 39 of the 200 seats in parliament, adding 34 to their 2007 tally. But failing to work in coalition with governing parties condemned them to obscurity. Now known as The Finns, they returned strongly, becoming the second-largest party in parliament in 2015 and joining the current coalition. Led by Timo Soini, The Finns are Eurosceptic and anti-globalist.

Sweden Democrats

Having emerged from the white suprematist movement, the Sweden Democrats are the third-largest party in the Swedish Riksdag, with 49 seats and 12.9 per cent of the national vote. They work alone as an opposition party, because mainstream political groups refuse to co-operate with them. Their quiet and bespectacled leader, Jimmie Åkesson, 37, uses anti-immigrant rhetoric and has expressed admiration for Donald Trump. His party is polling second to the governing Social Democrats, at 21.5 per cent – on a par with the centre-right Moderate Party.

Danish People’s Party

The nativist Danish People’s Party became the second-largest party in Denmark in the 2015 general election, winning 21 per cent of the vote, up from 12 per cent in 2011. Rather than stay in opposition, it provides parliamentary support to the plurality of leading centre-right parties. Slick and soft-spoken, the DPP’s leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, has called for cuts to immigration from Muslim countries and withdrawal from the EU’s Schengen free-movement area. Its economic policies lean more to the left: it supports a strong welfare state.

Partij voor de Vrijheid

The Dutch nationalist, anti-Islam PVV experienced a rapid rise to power in 2006 when, as a relatively new movement, it gained a greater share of seats in the House of Representatives than other, more established parties. In 2012 it came third; at present, it has 12 MPs. Its leader and sole member is Geert Wilders, whose appetite for controversy and unconventional one-man route to popularity (see feature) prompted the Politico website to label him “the man who invented Trumpism”. Opinion polls put the PVV in the lead for the 15 March general election, narrowly in front of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie.

Lega Nord

Italy’s neo-fascists have enjoyed a bounce after slumping to a historic low of 4 per cent in the 2013 election for the lower house. But the party that used be a partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition, winning 10.2 per cent of the vote in the 2009 European parliamentary elections, has been given new life by Matteo Salvini, 43, who became its leader in 2013. It has also proved adept at exploiting the migrant crisis, which has hit Italy hard, and it has been polling fourth among Italian parties (about 13 per cent) for much of this year.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The far right rises again

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The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

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