Do the far right lead Europe to disaster?
The rise of the far-right is a spectre now haunting Europe, with nationalist parties gaining ground as they focus on migration and security. On Monday, 6,000 far-right protesters were involved in clashes in Chemnitz in Saxony, Germany. In Italy, the right-wing League is in government with the populist Five Star movement. The far-right Sweden Democrats could hold the balance of power after elections this autumn. It is a similar story in Hungary, Austria and Slovenia. As the Mirror writes in the article Could the rise of the far right end 70 years of peace in Europe?, some fear the “great peace” – the 70-plus years of co-operation and security in Western Europe – is now under threat. The rise of the far-right has coincided with a decline of the centre-left. Of the 28 EU states, only six – Spain, Portugal, Malta, Greece, Sweden and Slovakia – have left-wing governments. The right’s tough line on migration has played well with some of the left’s traditional supporters. Prof Matthew Goodwin, of Kent University, says: “We have centre- left parties struggling with a new agenda of terrorism, immigration and the refugee crisis.”
There are fears for the future of the EU. A poll for Reuters suggests far-right parties could increase their seats in the European Parliament from 80 to 122 next year. Prof Goodwin says: “The issue of the refugee crisis is massive for the EU. If they cannot be seen to respond effectively to that issue and they cannot come up with a unified plan, that is going to cause the EU major, major problems.”
The Mirror presents its own vision of the current situation.
At the vanguard of the populist surge is PM Viktor Orban. In power since 2010, he has exploited unease over immigration to whip up nationalist sentiment. He casts himself as the defender of Europe against Muslim migrants, saying “a Europe with a mixed population” has “no sense of identity”. Hungary is now described as an “illiberal democracy” due to its suppression of free speech and political cronyism. Allies of Orban, 55, have been appointed to key positions in the courts, media and civil service. In June, a law was introduced so that anyone “facilitating illegal immigration” could face prison. Hungary has been referred to the European Court of Justice for “non-compliance” with EU law but Brussels has done little to tackle corruption in the country and allegations that billions of euros in EU funding goes to Orban’s cronies.
The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party entered parliament for the first time in last October’s elections, winning 12.6% of the vote and more than 90 seats. Preying on fears about immigration and Islam, one of its leading figures, Alexander Gauland, 77, has talked of fighting an “invasion of foreigners”. The party has also been accused of anti-Semitism. Traditional Conservative parties have shifted to the right to head off the threat. Angela Merkel’s government almost collapsed this year when her coalition partners the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union demanded a tougher line on immigration.
The Sweden Democrats, who are anti-immigration, are now polling a record high of 20 per cent. The party, which has roots in neo-Nazi organisations, is pushing an agenda of “Swexit”, halting migration and outsourcing the processing of asylum seekers to beyond Europe’s borders. Its focus on crime and immigration has found appeal among voters who previously supported the centre-left Social Democrats. It could hold the balance of power after next month’s election.
The right-wing Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and promotes a hardline nationalist and religious agenda. The Government has alarmed the EU by taking control of state media and granting itself powers to hire and fire the previously independent judiciary. Exploiting unease about immigration, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 69, claimed that migrants could
cause “epidemics”. The Government made it illegal to accuse the Polish state of complicity in the Holocaust, leading to accusations that it is trying to cover up collaboration with the Nazis.
The anti-immigration Freedom Party was given several key cabinet posts as part of a coalition deal with the majority People’s Party. Founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, the Freedom Party wants a tough line on asylum seekers and immigrants. Legislation before the Austrian parliament would force asylum seekers to hand over their mobile phones and surrender cash to pay for their upkeep. Other proposals include a ban on girls aged 10 and under from wearing headscarves at school. A leading party member caused controversy by demanding a law requiring permits for kosher meat. The Government had to reassure the Jewish community the suggestion was not official policy.
There are fears that a failure to deliver the Brexit promised by the Leave campaign could fuel far-right tensions here. UKIP has made a mini-recovery in the polls off the back of its claim that PM Theresa May is “betraying” voters with her soft Brexit. Leader Gerard Batten has taken the party further to the right with anti-Muslim rhetoric, calling Islam a “death cult” and talking of an “explosion” of mosques in Europe.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National won 33.9 per cent of the vote in last year’s presidential election. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is pushing an anti-EU, anti-Islam message and far-right parties are on the rise in Slovenia and the Czech Republic.