Europe’s right turn alarms political elites
It is just three years old. But Alternative für Deutschland has made the most significant gains of a far-right party in Germany since 1945. Can anything stop Europe’s nationalist surge?
‘Ms Merkel’s refugee policy has lost her party votes,’ said a leading figure of Germany’s right-wing AfD party, Alexander Gauland, on Sunday night. ‘We, by contrast, have made it clear from the start that we don’t want to take them in.’
All too clear, many think. Since Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors to over one million refugees, the AfD’s banners and leaflets have included slogans like ‘Enough!’, ‘Secure the borders’ and ‘Stop the Asylum Chaos!’
It worked. The party has made an unexpected surge in local elections; in one state it picked up around a quarter of the votes. And while it did not win any of the three states outright, it has sent a clear message to Germany’s political elite.
It was a ‘difficult day’, said Merkel. Her words echoed the fears of many political leaders in Europe, who have nervously watched a rise in support for far-right parties over the last few years.
These come in many forms, reflecting the unique concerns and characters of their nations. In Britain, support for the UK Independence Party pushed the Conservative government into holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU this summer. But Nigel Farage is a long way from the Greek neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn, whose leaders are currently on trial for murder and hate crimes.
Meanwhile in France, Marine le Pen of the National Front has ditched the anti-Semitic, anti-gay rhetoric of the party’s past in favour of critiquing high unemployment, immigration and extremist Islam. She is now leading the 2017 presidential polls.
What these parties do have in common is a strong sense of nationalism, suspicion of immigration, and a deep mistrust of the political establishment.
So what is behind their support?
Europe has been through a long series of crises — from the economic crash, to the possible collapse of the euro, and now to the influx of refugees who are desperate for the continent’s help. The blend of economic strife and increasing immigration has been the perfect breeding ground for the far right.
A flash in the pan?
This nationalist anger and fear is not just present in Europe, argue some. It is the very same anger that drives Donald Trump supporters in the USA. Globalisation and economic collapse have left establishment politics broken — if we want to avoid the mistakes of Europe’s past, we have to find new solutions for a new era.
This is dramatic, but untrue, say others. Most European voters remain moderate, and they often turn out in high numbers just to keep the far right at bay. Yes, a lot of people are angry at the current situation, and these votes are a form of protest. But once Europe gets a handle on its problems, things will go back to normal.
- Are you concerned about the popularity of far-right parties in Europe?
- How should Europe’s politicians respond to voters’ concerns about immigration and the economy?
- Write a short paragraph explaining what is meant by ‘far-right’ politics, including some common policies and rhetoric.
- Some have likened the surge of far-right support in recent years to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s. Write a list which compares the similarities and differences of the two periods.
Some People Say...
“Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.”George Orwell
What do you think?
Q & A
- Should we really be that worried?
- Far-right politics are known for stirring up hatred and fear of particular groups. In Germany in the 1930s, this eventually led to the murder and persecution of Jews, gay people, black people, and those with disabilities. Now, Europe is beginning to see a rise in anti-Muslim attacks.
- Is it happening everywhere?
- Most countries do have these kinds of groups. But in a handful of places, left-wing populist parties have surged instead — such as Podemos in Spain, or the Syriza coalition in Greece, which was elected to power last year. And it is worth remembering that although far-right parties have been gaining support in a lot of countries, often in local elections, so far most have been locked out of national government in favour of more traditional parties.
- Alternative für Deutschland was founded three years ago in opposition to Germany’s financial policies in the eurozone. But as the refugee crisis emerged, it has become more extremist in its views.
- AfD made the biggest gains in Saxony-Anhalt, where it is now the second-biggest party. In Baden-Württemberg, the Green Party came first while the AfD polled at 15%. In Rhineland-Palatinate it came fourth with 12.5%.
- UK Independence Party
- UKIP is led by Nigel Farage. But despite gaining 12.9% of the vote in last year’s general election, making it the third most popular party, it only won one seat in parliament.
- Golden Dawn
- The trial of 69 people, including Golden Dawn leaders and current MPs, involves a string of accusations. Among them is the serious Greek charge of being in a criminal group, and the murder of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.
- National Front
- Le Pen took over the leadership from her more extreme father, who was known as the ‘Devil of the Republic’.
- A strong belief in a country’s own importance and culture, often to the detriment of others.