Brexit Party trounces rivals in EU elections
In the UK, the newly-formed Brexit Party won a big victory in EU elections while populists gained ground in some countries but fell short of the very significant gains some had predicted.
In Milan last week, leaders from several far-right parties across Europe gathered for a rain-soaked rally in front of the Italian city’s gothic cathedral. Banners hung from windows declaring: “Milan is anti-fascist.”
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of Lega Nord, insists, “There are no extremists, racists or fascists in this square. Here you won’t find the far-right, but the politics of good sense. The extremists are those who have governed Europe for the past 20 years.”
What is going on? In the past few days, the European Union (EU) held one of the largest elections in the world. Around 400 million people from 28 countries voted in elections to the European Parliament. The result could shape the future of the continent.
Those parties that gathered in Milan are part of a nationalist right-wing parliamentary group called Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).
Although each party is unique to its home country, they are united in their opposition to illegal immigration and the bureaucracy of EU “elites”.
The ENF is currently the EU’s smallest parliamentary group, with just 37 MEPs out of 751.
However, this was the first EU election since the refugee crisis, Brexit and Donald Trump.
Eventually, the ENF hopes that other anti-immigration parties, like Hungary’s Fidesz, will join them.
“If it is necessary, I will give my life for Italy, for my children, for you,” Salvini told crowds on Saturday. “I will stop at nothing and for nobody.”
Should we be worried by the rise of far-right parties in Europe? After all, the EU was created out of the ashes of a continent that was pulled apart by fascism. And last October, the European Economic and Social Committee warned, “Fascism is on the rise again.” It pointed to Germany’s AfD and the far-right Swedish Democrats. “Halting this wave is fundamental, as history shows clearly where it ends,” it said.
But is fascism really back? The ideology is hard to pin-down but, at its core, it believes in a nation’s supremacy over others. It is anti-democratic and totalitarian. As the historian Yuval Noah Harari put it last year, fascism tells us, “I don't need to care about anybody or anything other than my nation.” That is not what we are facing in Europe — the ENF wants to reform the EU from within, but it does not want to destroy it.
- Is Europe reliving the 1930s?
- What is behind the rise in popularity of nationalist parties in Europe?
- Write your own definition of fascism, based on what you have read in this article and on your prior knowledge.
- Choose one of the political parties or politicians mentioned this article and research more about their background and beliefs. Write a short fact file about them.
Some People Say...
“Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.”Albert Einstein
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The EU election will take place between 23 and 26 May. The final results will be revealed on Sunday night. The 28 countries must vote using a proportional voting system (meaning parties win seats according to the percentage of votes they receive, rather than there being one overall winner of each seat). However, individual countries can decide which voting system to use. England, Wales and Scotland use the D’Hondt system, named after a 19th-century Belgian lawyer and mathematician.
- What do we not know?
- How well nationalist and far-right parties will do. Although they are expected to do better than 2014, they are unlikely to form a majority in the EU’s parliament. We also do not know how well they will work together if they do gain more power as, unsurprisingly, each party has its own flavour and priorities.
- Brexit Party
- The latest poll average puts Nigel Farage’s new party at 32% — ahead of Labour at 21% and the Conservatives at 11%.
- European Parliament
- The legislative body of the EU, which votes on new laws and regulations. It has 751 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) elected from all 28 EU countries.
- According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): “A person who strongly identifies with their own nation and vigorously supports its interests.”
- Refugee crisis
- This began in 2015, a year after the last EU election. That year, around one million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe.
- Polling by the website Politico actually puts them in fourth place, behind a new alliance of liberal parties.
- A populist right-wing party led by Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban.
- According to the OED: “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government.” Fascist parties rose to power in the 1930s in Europe, including Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.
- Alternative for Germany. In 2017, it won seats in the country’s parliament for the first time.