media by Alexis Sogl
video by Mathiew Leiser
Britain’s decision to leave the EU earlier this year was, in part, a reaction to the European migrant crisis. Many European countries are currently facing a rise in nationalism, echoed in promises made by Donald Trump to “Make America Great Again,” by building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and deporting illegal immigrants. Some of Europe’s far-right parties openly support Trump’s candidacy, while others distance themselves from him.
“There are at least superficial parallels between Europe and the USA. Migration is a burning issue and there is a general anti-establishment momentum,” said Dr Anders Widfeldt of the University of Aberdeen. “But populism and xenophobia in the USA have different roots and traditions than in Europe. I am not sure Trump supporters would happily agree that their preferred candidate is directly comparable to Marine Le Pen, Kristian Thulesen Dahl or Matteo Salvini.”
Trump predicted that Brexit would happen and described it as great victory when he visited one of his golf courses in Scotland in late June:
“People want to take their country back. They want to have independence and you see it with Europe. (…) They want to take their borders back. They want to take their monetary [sic] back. They want to take a lot of things back. They want to be able to have a country again. (…) I really can see a parallel between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here (in Britain).”
The sources of migration are different in Europe and the United States, but the fear it generates affects people in the same way. In Europe, new far-right parties have emerged, populist agendas have been introduced and they are gaining more support. Britain’s UKIP enjoyed success with Brexit, Germany’s AfD has caught up with the two most popular parties, and Austria might elect an FPÖ president in December.
“The longer term implications are very difficult to predict, but what I can see happening in Europe is that many of these parties will grow in political competence, legitimacy and influence. The growth in electoral support will make them more difficult to ignore and keep out from positions of influence,” Dr Widfeldt said.
The election of Trump could legitimise the existence and rise of populist politics in Europe. However, Dr Nicholas Kitchen of the London School of Economics has said that “Trumpism won’t go away even if Clinton wins election.”
Hungary is no stranger to authoritarian leadership, having been ruled by both fascists and communists. Two right-wing groups have today been pushed to the forefront and together hold 78 per cent of all seats in parliament.
Fidesz (the Hungary Civic Alliance) is the party currently in power. It started as a soft conservative power in 1992 and ran in opposition to the Socialist Party. In 2000, Prime Minister Viktor Orban moved the party further to the right when he gained a ‘supermajority’ of more than two thirds of all seats. Orban tried to pass changes to the constitution multiple times. Orban has also used this majority to centralise power and weaken institutions, such as the courts and the media.
Jobbik, a radical nationalist party founded in 2003 by a group of Catholic and Protestant students, has acquired 11 per cent of seats in parliament. This makes it the third biggest party. People are increasingly worried that Hungary’s youth will turn to this openly anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation and anti-semitic party.
Since all that stands between Jobbik coming to power in the next few years, Viktor Orban has compromised some of his own parties’ values to accommodate Jobbik supporters. A referendum was held in October to try to exempt Hungary from the EU’s migrant quota system, but there was insufficient turnout for it to be constitutionally valid.
Austria might elect the EU’s first right-wing president on 4 December 2016. This is its third attempt to vote for a head of state this year and the country’s reputation for political stability has suffered from the electoral turmoil.
In May, the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) candidate Norbert Hofer almost defeated the independent candidate and former head of the Green party Alexander Van der Bellen. However, the constitutional court annulled the result due to faults in postal ballots procedures – and yet another election re-run in September had to be postponed due to problems with the glue used in postal ballot papers.
Apart from the hugely popular Norbert Hofer, Heinz-Christian Strache is a key figure in establishing nationalist ideology in Austria since becoming the party’s chairman in 2005. Similar to Trump’s call for the building of a wall to Mexico, the party’s campaigns focus on strengthening borders, limiting benefits for immigrants and favouring Austrian citizens in the job market.
Although the Austrian presidency is mainly ceremonial, a victory for Norbert Hofer could harm the nation’s image, as the FPÖ is perceived as a far-right movement with a Nazi history internationally.
Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) began as a small eurosceptic party in 2013, but has since then become the most successful far-right phenomenon in Germany since the Second World War.
Under the leadership of Frauke Petry, the party grew last year by capitalising on the fears among voters that the influx of refugees would fundamentally change the country.
Petry’s provocative rhetoric, including a suggestion that police should “use firearms if necessary” to stop people crossing the border illegally, has earned her the nickname “Adolfina”. She has been likened to Trump for her inflammatory style, for coming late into politics and for playing on her outsider status. Petry criticises the media while dominating the news cycle.
In recent regional elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the AfD beat Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union into third place. Petry’s party also recently won its first seats in the state parliament of Berlin. While it has gained an angry, grassroots support, other German parties have so far refused to form coalitions with the AfD.
Germany’s post-war constitution was designed to curb populist influence. For decades, the far right has been a limited force. In the context of Germany’s history, many people see this resurgence as uniquely alarming.
The epicentre of Europe’s political instability may be France. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National (FN), recently described her party as the “first party of France” and its popularity is rising in the polls. Similar to Trump in the United States, many French people see Le Pen as a way to challenge the establishment and its years of contested policies.
Le Pen has exploited her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s legacy and has restructured the FN to make it one of the biggest forces in French politics. The tactical change unleashed a new wave of support, known as “la vague bleu marine”, garnering 30 to 40 per cent of the votes in some regions. Le Pen’s movement aims to “make France great again” and has been hailed by some as the rebirth of protectionism in the country.
As a proud supporter of Brexit, Le Pen has declared that she will propose a “Frexit” if she is elected in May next year. Her niece, Marion-Maréchal Le Pen, a prominent actor within the party, declared that Trump would be “less harmful than Hillary Clinton”. If Trump wins the election, the Front National will appear stronger than ever.
The rise of ex-comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has drastically reshaped the Italian political landscape since it became the most popular opposition party in the 2013 elections. The Five Star Movement has attracted large consensus among disaffected Italian voters both left and right, with an aggressive anti-establishment, anti-European rhetoric and requests for tougher policies on immigration.
In the European Parliament, the party is allied with Nigel Farage’s UKIP, and Beppe Grillo has declared he would prefer Trump as US president.
Latest polls show Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party holding only a 0.6 per cent majority over Grillo’s party and the Italian referendum on 4 December could be even more telling. Strongly backed by Renzi, the referendum aims to make the legislative process more efficient, by concentrating decisional power in the Chamber of Deputies. This would modify the historically debated Italian “perfect bicameralism”, in which the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have equal power; a system considered inefficient by those supporting the “Yes” vote.
A victory of the “No” front, led by the Five Star Movement (also including some “non-aligned” members of the Democratic Party), would seriously undermine the stability of the government, possibly paving the way for new elections. With Renzi’s consensus decreased by 15 points over the last year, Grillo’s momentum to win a majority could be stronger than ever.
Poland has been governed by the right wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) since it won 38 per cent of the national vote in the 2015 parliamentary elections. The PiS was founded in 2001 by its current leader Jarosław Aleksander Kaczyński and his twin brother, the late Lech Kaczynski.
Shortly after coming to power, the new government took control of the nation’s public media, judiciary and Civil Service. They also paralysed the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, to a great extent. These moves were criticised by the European Union.
Prior to the rise of the PiS, Poland had been praised for moving towards a free-market economy and adopting democratic norms after the fall of communism in 1989. The country was less liberal than it appeared. Many Poles felt left out of the cosmopolitan, fast-paced Poland and were angered by the large number of ex-communists in political and economical spheres. As a result, they chose to support PiS.
Sweden was shocked when the xenophobic party The Sweden Democrats was first voted into parliament in 2010, but no one predicted how big it would become.
With only 5.7 per cent of the votes, this nationalist party had no real influence at first, because other parties refused to cooperate with it. However, The Sweden Democrats quickly ascended in popularity with their charismatic and eloquent leader Jimmie Åkesson voicing populist ideas of immigration reform. The political incorrectness of his rhetoric filled a void in the public debate, which the other parties have been unable to stop.
Although The Sweden Democrats have been hounded by internal scandals and have excluded party members who did not tow the line, the party has only grown in popularity with the refugee crisis in Europe. An average of the latest opinion polls place the Sweden Democrats at 19.6 per cent, an increase of 6.7 points since the last parliamentary election in September 2014.
The two major political blocks, The Red-Greens and The Alliance, still decline to work with The Sweden Democrats, which has left the current minority government at a standstill. If The Sweden Democrats muster enough votes by the next election in 2018, or can persuade another party to back them, they may become a real threat to the status quo.
With three regional governments, three communities and one national government, everyday political life in Belgium can be complicated.
For example, a French-speaking family in Brussels depends on the national government for their pension, the music academy their children go to is funded by the Walloon government, the neighbourhood high school is organised by the Flemish government and the garbage disposal is coordinated by the Brussels government. Such a complicated organisation of state is bound to trigger some dissatisfaction among the public.
In 2001, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a central-right party, was formed out of the remains of a nationalistic Flemish union. It campaigned for a more independent Flanders, a confederal political structure and a more conservative Belgium with more police, less taxes and stricter legislation on migration. After rapidly winning the trust of the Flemish public, it practically absorbed the extreme right party.
Since 2010, the N-VA has been the biggest party in Flanders, pitching the Dutch-speaking community against the French-speaking community, which has voted left-liberal for the last two decades. As a result, Belgium went through a political crisis: 589 days without a government – left against right, Flanders against Wallonia – a country divided. A fragile compromise led the county out of crisis. The national government is a coalition of four parties including the N-VA, making every decision a battle.
The rise of the far-right parties in Western Europe was boosted after the results of Britain’s referendum on EU membership. The UK voted to leave the European Union after a campaign led by the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage (pictured left). Now Americans are choosing their own country’s leader, with Trump representing very similar hostility to migrants as Farage.
UKIP was founded in opposition to European integration and started to gain popularity in 2011. In the UK’s European Parliament election of 2014, UKIP came first. However, in the 2015 general election, UKIP ended up with just one seat in Westminster.
Farage was one of the lead characters in the Vote Leave campaign. Brexit was UKIP’s greatest success, but now its future is in crisis. Diane James stood down 18 days after succeeding Farage as leader of the party. Farage resigned shortly after the vote for Brexit.
In the 2015 Danish general election, a right-wing populist party, the Danish People’s Party (DPP) unexpectedly gained 22 of 179 seats in parliament, 15 seats more than in the 2011 election.
A few months later, a new far-right group emerged. The New Civil Party (also called The New Conservatives) gained traction amid growing anger over Europe and Denmark’s approach to the migrant crisis. Its leader Pernille Vermund promises to take a hard line on refugee and immigration policies.
Erik Albæk, Professor of Centre for Journalism at University of Southern Denmark, said: “Denmark is swinging to the right in the sense that the anti-immigrant and EU-sceptic agenda that has been set by the Danish People’s Party has gradually influenced the agenda of other parties, including left-of-centre parties such as the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party.
“When it comes to migration and anti-globalization there is some similarity between the right wing populist parties in Denmark and the same parties in the rest of Europe and Donald Trump.”
The unexpectedly strong showing of the Danish People’s Party in the 2015 general election and the emergence of The New Civil Party highlights an increasing crisis of confidence in traditional political institutions and popular anxiety towards the response of the migrant crisis in Denmark and Europe.
Switzerland’s right-wing party, the Swiss People’s Party (Schweizer Volkspartei, SVP) was founded in 1971 and has been the strongest force in the Swiss party system since the early 2000s. In the 2015 Swiss federal election, the party won 29 per cent of all votes. The party is well established and likely to stay in power. One of its most prominent politicians is Christoph Blocher, who has been named “Switzerland’s Trump” in the past.
The eurosceptic party is mainly critical towards immigration, especially Muslim immigrants. The Swiss political system is shaped by direct democratic elements with referendums necessary for every change in the constitution. Citizens can also change Swiss laws through federal popular initiatives, requiring a minimum of 100,000 signatures. In 2009 such an initiative was successful in banning the construction of minarets. The SVP is currently collecting signatures for a referendum on banning face coverings.
Blocher himself distances his party from other extreme right parties, such as the German AfD or the French FN. Even though he shares many views with Trump, Blocher said that Trump’s success scares him and that thanks to the SVP, there are no extreme right parties in Switzerland.
Since the Dutch people elected a left-liberal government in 2012, voters have been left dissatisfied by the current coalition. This makes the next election in March 2017 more contested than ever. Recent polls suggest that the left-wing Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) has decreased drastically, while Geert Wilders’ extreme-right Dutch Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) has taken over as second-biggest party in the country. Prime Minister Rutte’s Liberal Party (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD) is also experiencing declining popularity, but is still the biggest party in the country.
The rapidly growing PVV is campaigning against Islam, migration and the EU. It wants to introduce binding referenda, decrease taxes and decrease the funding of healthcare and social institutions, but increase the budget for police and security. The PVV is centralised around its leading member: Geert Wilders. Not only do his physical looks slightly resemble Trump’s, but he uses the same discourse and approach to attract voters. He appears on a weekly basis in the national media, targets the dissatisfied uneducated white community, uses the discourse of negativity, employs fact-free politics and is obsessed with national identity and patriotism. Wilders is a strong supporter of Trump.