How the far right is surging in Europe

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European voters have shifted to the far right.

In Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy political party is described in the CNN report as “the most far-right government since the fascist era of Benito Mussolini”.

This description, invoking Mussolini, raises the chilling specter of World War II, though it’s important to consider where the comparison begins and ends.

Meloni, disturbing as her rhetoric may be, is a 45-year-old mother from Rome preparing to lead a coalition government, not a dictator in military uniform overseeing a fascist regime.

She is set to claim victory after targeting immigration, the favorite subject of nativist and populist politicians around the world. As former US President Donald Trump came to power promising to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, Meloni has repeatedly suggested a “naval blockade” to stop the flow of people to Europe from the Mediterranean.

In Sweden, a party described as having “neo-Nazi roots” tapped into anti-immigrant sentiment and won more than 20% of the vote in elections earlier this month, enough to give it some influence over the new government in training courses there.

In Italy’s parliamentary system, the Brothers of Italy, which won just over a quarter of the vote, will take control of the government as part of a right-wing coalition with other parties.

While the anti-immigrant policies that may come from Meloni in Italy are troubling, the parliamentary system, which favors multiple parties and coalition governments, provides safeguards.

I spoke to Trygve Olson, president of Viking Strategies, an international political risk management firm. He has worked as a consultant in several countries and argued that Meloni could move up in the office.

“Just because they’ve taken power doesn’t necessarily mean their democratic systems are broken,” Olson told me in a phone conversation. ” It’s troubling. And that says there are a lot of European voters who feel hopeless because some of their concerns are not being taken into account by mainstream parties.

But the mainstream parties are still there to block far-right politicians, who now have the opportunity to try to build consensus.

European officials have suggested they could cut funding to Italy if Meloni’s policies violate the rule of law.

“If things go in a difficult direction – and I mentioned Hungary and Poland – we have the tools,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said recently.

She was asked about Italy, but also about Hungary and Poland, where more entrenched far-right leaders have won and retained power.

Rafaela Dancygier is a professor of political and public sciences and international affairs at Princeton University, and she has studied both the radical right and the question of immigration in Europe.

She told me in a phone conversation that while Americans might view the success of far-right parties as an abrupt change, that is not the case, and far-right positions have normalized. in Italy in recent years.

“I know there’s kind of a temptation to describe this as a sea change,” she said. “And it’s definitely radical, but I don’t think it’s a change. It’s a continuation of a trend.”

Dancygier also noted that while right-wing voters were motivated, turnout was down from previous elections, which created an opening for Meloni’s coalition.

“It’s also a failure of the left,” she said.

The European Parliament recently declared that Hungary was no longer a “full democracy”. Hungary is led by Viktor Orban, the darling of American conservatives. He spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas this summer.

CNN’s Michael Warren reported at the time that Orban sounded a lot like Trump during the speech.

“The right-wing European leader struck guaranteed applause – including telling the Texas crowd that ‘Hungary is Europe’s lonely state’ – and blasting liberals, the media and the Democratic Party,” wrote Warren, also noting that Trump hosted Orban at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Poland’s president is Andrzej Duda, who narrowly won re-election in 2020 with a focus on anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Duda is another Trump favorite.

There is plenty of evidence that far-right politicians have won in Europe in recent years.

France’s far-right candidate Marine Le Pen lost her race to President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year but won more than 41% of the vote in a runoff, far more than she expected. got some in 2017, suggesting that his anti-immigration message is growing in France.

This year – 2017 – was the same when the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany, AfD, first won seats in the German parliament, the Bundestag. The AfD has since been placed under official surveillance by the country, “on suspicion of attempting to undermine Germany’s democratic constitution”, according to a Reuters report.

The AfD lost a few seats in the German parliament last year, but it maintains a foothold.

“It’s as if a rejection of the glaringly failing pan-European orthodoxy is taking hold among our citizens,” Gunnar Beck, a member of the European Parliament representing the AfD, told CNN’s Luke McGee for his story, “The conditions are perfect for a populist resurgence in Europe.

McGee writes that Meloni’s political platform will sound familiar to anyone who has paid attention to far-right rhetoric.

“She openly questions LGBTQ+ and abortion rights, aims to curb immigration, and seems obsessed with the idea that traditional values ​​and ways of life are under attack because of everything from globalization to marriage. homosexual,” according to McGee.

The positions of far-right politicians are similar across Europe, Dancygier said:

  • “They are against liberal democracy and prefer a more populist or authoritarian kind of democracy.”
  • “They very often emphasize Christianity and the importance of Christian nationalism, as well as the role of the family.”
  • “They openly campaign against what they call the LGBTQ lobby.”

The Trump wing of the American right has a lot to like about Meloni’s victory. She has had vocal support from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House adviser who was indicted in New York earlier this month for his role in a scheme to privately fund a wall on the southern border. the United States.

When I asked how the rise of far-right parties in Europe differs from the power of far-right politicians in the United States, Dancygier argued that the American system really only allows for two parties. Many state platforms in the United States would be very similar to a far-right party in Europe.


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