The populist right stands up for corporations and corruption, not the people

The corruption scandal engulfing Austria's deputy chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache is part of a broader trend among the far right.

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“Enough is enough” said Austria’s millennial chancellor Sebastien Kurz last Saturday, as he announced the end of his coalition with the far-right FPO. He did so after its leader Heinz-Christian Strache was caught on video engaging in alcohol-fuelled dodgy dealings, promising public contracts to a woman posing as a Russian backer, in return for help in his election campaign.

Strache and his far-right outfit have posed for years as a party whose aims include “social responsibility … and an equitable distribution of contributions and benefits for the general public” according to their campaign posters.

Much like other like-minded parties across Europe, the FPO promised to take care of their country’s own people and protect its welfare state from the invading hordes of immigrants seeking to take advantage. They’d restore dignity and give the simple working man his pride back.

However, whenever parties like the FPO find themselves with any semblance of power, their actions have consistently pointed in the opposite direction; that of protecting corporate interests and corrupt practices.

It was recently revealed that Nigel Farage received £450,000 from Aaron Banks – who was the main funder of the Leave campaign and is currently under investigation from the electoral committee – last year. Far from being the exception, Farage is simply following suit with the rest of the populist right across Europe.

According to a new report by the Corporate Europe Observatory in Brussels, the practice is widespread. The German far-right party AfD for instance, has been supported with millions in dark money since 2016.

But what the AfD provides in exchange is much clearer. “The AfD opposed 10 of the 14 European Parliament votes that Corporate Europe Observatory studied, including action to tackle the gender pay gap; ending fossil fuel subsidies; a 25 per cent corporate tax rate; a proposal for a directive on ‘decent work’; action on work-life balance; health and safety at work; and others,” CEO reported.

In Poland, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has been in government since 2015, purports to support “the ordinary man, the young and the old, and the needs of hard working people”. Yet its MEPs have voted against: addressing the gender pay gap, a proposal for a directive on ‘decent work’, a pan-EU 25 per cent corporate tax rate, the creation of a EU authority to tackle tax evasion, a tax on work by robots to fund worker re-training, and "country by country reporting on corporate profits".

UKIP, the UK’s own defender of the common people, which in 2017 said in its electoral manifesto that “We will not let large companies get away with paying zero or negligible corporation tax”, voted against those very same resolutions as well.

This pattern doesn’t start or end with these parties. Across Europe, dark money is propping up similarly hypocritical populist movements like Holland’s ‘Party for Freedom (PVV)’, Hungary’s "Fidesz", Italy’s ‘Lega’ and France’s ‘Front Nationale (FN). And their votes, in coordination, prop up corporate interests.

It’s of course an old story. It’s in fact one of the stories that goes right back to the Nazis and other fascist regimes that were funded by huge corporations on their way to power, and returned the favour by smashing unions and limiting workers rights.

The current crop of demagogues might not be as dangerous as the ones that set Europe on fire seventy years ago – at least not for now. But their methods are and we should be calling them out as such.

These politicians are funded by rich donors in domestic parliaments and in Strasbourg. And they don’t stand up for ordinary workers, or even the “traditional” white working class they supposedly champion. They are hypocrites who stand up only for corporate interests and for lining their own pockets.

Yiannis Baboulias is a journalist, a Resonant Voices fellow with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and a member of the investigative group The Manifold. His work on politics, economics and Europe, appears in the AtlanticNew Statesman, Foreign Policy and others.