The rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party and Mussolini’s Fascist Party in the 1920s and 1930s first demonstrated the idea that economic instability and a perceived leftist threat could provoke a far-right, nationalist backlash. War reparations, sluggish economies, and the threat of communism in those decades created an environment in which reactionary, racist, and nationalist ideas suddenly became amenable to the general public. Today, a similar crop of right-wing parties (albeit of a milder variety) is gaining traction once again in Europe.
Thanks to the current euro-crisis and the threats of European integration and increased immigration, established political forces have been losing ground to right-wing populism and nationalism. Far-right parties in almost every European country, including France, Britain, Holland, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries, have seen all-time high levels of support in recent months. For the most part, these parties are anti-EU, anti-immigration, and anti-Islam, and many have a past history of racism and anti-Semitism. In light of looming European Parliament elections in May, the popularity of these extreme right-wing parties is all the more alarming. European Union advocates fear that an increase in the number of Euro-skeptic, nationalist parliament members could roll back years of progress and integration, and weaken the EU at a time when it is needed the most. Although authoritarian regimes will not spring up any time soon, these right-wing parties have strong potential to shift political debate by exploiting popular dissatisfaction across Europe.
In France, polls suggest that the National Front (FN), a protectionist, anti-EU, and anti-immigration party with an anti-Semitic past, could win a plurality of the vote in the upcoming elections. UKIP, a British right-wing party with 10 out of 766 total seats in the European Parliament, played a major part in convincing British Conservatives to hold a 2017 referendum on EU membership.
Despite their far-right platforms, UKIP and FN are relatively moderate compared to similar parties in other countries. Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands (the country’s third largest), has called the Koran a “fascist book” and has openly expressed his hatred of Islam. In Greece, Golden Dawn, a party that has been described as neo-Nazi, fascist, and xenophobic, garnered 7% of the popular vote in national elections in 2012, allowing it to enter Greek parliament for the first time in its history. The ultra-nationalist Jobbik party, founded only 11 years ago, has become the third largest in Hungary. Jobbik, which has been associated with anti-Semitic and anti-Roma attitudes, describes itself as a radically patriotic Christian party aiming to protect Hungarian values and interests. In November 2012, a Jobbik deputy leader, Maron Gyongyosi, suggested to draw up a list of Hungarian Jews on national security grounds.
Although these parties are of varying degrees of virulence and differ according to local views on various issues, what they do have in common is hostility toward the supranational EU and immigration and a shared goal of defending their respective nations’ traditions, borders, and sovereignty. At its core, this crop of right-wing movements taps into people’s fears about globalization and change, using such rhetoric as the Euro-zone crisis, immigration, and EU bureaucracy to further its message of national identity and self-determination. Politicians should do all they can to make sure that this band of nationalists does not interfere with the goals of economic and political unity in Europe.
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