The recent meteoric rise of nationalistic far-right parties in Europe has stunned many observers. After all, this is the continent where nearly 80 years ago far right ideology lit a fire that consumed over 30 million people. While the scars of this fire are still visible today, fears around immigration, economic downturn and loss of national identity have helped political discourse lurch to the right, opening the door to these groups. As one expert told the New York Times late last year: “When fear grows, irrationality grows. That is at the heart of this new right-wing phenomenon.” We look at six European politicians who have leveraged voters fears into political success and, in doing so, have helped shape the right-wing trajectory in an increasingly fragile Eurozone.
Party for Freedom (PVV)
With his blond bouffant hair and penchant for conjuring controversy, it’s easy to see why some have compared Wilders with Donald Trump. Wilders primary tactic is painting Muslims as a threat to Dutch identity, with his party campaigning to ban the Quran and close all mosques in the country, among other dog-whistle policies. In the process the PVV appears to have dragged the famously liberal Dutch to the right. In 2017, Wilders’ party won the second most seats in the federal election, while several right-leaning parties using toned-down versions of his rhetoric gained ground. Although unable to form government, many say Wilders poses a continued threat in opposition, with his own brother warning that he’ll be a “backseat fomenter of discord”.
Jobbik (Right Choice)
As head of Jobbik, Vona has tapped into classical fascism by mixing ethno-nationalism with anti-Semitism and anti-Roma rhetoric. He has since tried to back away from some of the extreme views of his party’s past in an effort to attract more moderate voters, although the party platform is still obsessed with “eliminating gypsy crime” using “state-controlled involvement of voluntary organisations”. That sounds a lot like re-legitimising his now-banned paramilitary group, which was known for provocatively marching through Roma villages. Nonetheless, poll watchers suggest his party will be the only one capable of challenging President Viktor Orbán in elections slated for April.
Marine Le Pen
Front National (National Front)
Le Pen, daughter of holocaust denier and FN’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has successfully deployed a “globalist vs patriots” rhetoric that has seen politics in France shift to the right, taking the party she inherited from the fringe to a mainstream option. Not that her party’s policies have altered all that much in her time – she still wants to make it illegal for Muslim women to wear headscarves, ensure any public provision goes to ‘native French’ before immigrants, and take France out of the Eurozone. Combining this with a populist focus on working-class issues saw her reach the two-party run-off stage for president in 2017. Despite losing, political analysts say her party will be well placed for the 2022 presidential election, and she remains perhaps the most prominent of Europe’s far-right figures.
Nephew of Golden Dawn’s founder, Kasidiaris is a spokesperson and heir apparent to the Nazi-sympathising party, although he is more infamous for his thuggish behaviour than anything he’s done as a legislator in the Greek Parliament. Kasidiaris gained worldwide attention for slapping a female politician in the face during a morning TV debate. His party has been linked to hundreds of hate crimes against migrants, ethnic minorities and political opponents, including dozens this year alone, and its entire leadership, Kasidiaris included, is currently being prosecuted for essentially belonging to a criminal organisation. Despite this, Golden Dawn stubbornly holds the position as Greece’s third largest federal party.
Alternative for Deutschland
Gauland founded Alternative for Deutschland in 2013 on a Eurosceptic platform, but in recent years his party found support for its anti-immigration rhetoric as Germany struggled to cope with over 1.5 million refugees arriving over four years. While he particularly dislikes Muslims, saying “Islam has no place in Germany”, he’s also caused controversy by saying that while people may admire black footballer and German national team member Jerome Boateng, people wouldn’t want him as a neighbour. Nonetheless, his party became the third largest represented in Germany’s Bundestag in September 2017, winning 13 per cent of the national vote. Gauland said after the result that the party would use its new MPs to fight “an invasion of foreigners”.
Lega Nord (The Northern League)
Populist Salvini is considered by many in his country to be an unapologetic racist, having suggested closing all mosques to stop terrorism and suggesting the navy push boatloads of migrants in the Mediterranean back out to sea. His rallies, where supporters wave pictures of former dictator Benito Mussolini and flags featuring the black celtic cross symbol favoured by some neo-Nazis, have given some the impression that he is the most dangerous man in Italy. Under his leadership After a win in the March elections, The Northern League is flourishing as part of a right-wing coalition, with Salvini taking the role of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister.