As most of you probably know, at the end of May 2013, over five-hundred-million European citizens will have the opportunity to vote for their representatives at the European Parliament. However, most of them are unaware of the current political climate which is likely to shape the current European Parliamentary elections and to define the political composition of the incumbent body of government for over 500 million people and twenty-eight member states.
It is difficult for most people to take a look at what seems to be distant history and not realize how quick the rise of one of the most destructive forces of the history of mankind took place. Only five years elapsed between the time that the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP, the actual name of the German Nazi Party) had only a few hundred members, to it forcing the president of Germany to proclaim Adolf Hitler Chancellor (a man he thoroughly despised).
Although not entirely comparable to the situation of Europe and Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, the rise of far-right parties and their ties to the economic hardships and austerity measures imposed by the European Union, and the consequent deriving nationalist tendencies, is alarming. Indeed, such parties are gaining ground in almost every single nation in Europe, and most adhere to the fourteen precepts of fascism established by noted scholar and political historian Dr. Lawrence Britt.
The causes behind extremism
The parties representing these dangerous philosophies generally rely on rhetorical devices that advocate and call for ethnic exclusion, cultural purity, taking precedence of one’s “own people” before immigrants and asylum seekers, demonization of Muslims and other minorities, and the maintenance of the culture’s “traditional values”. The threat to the integrity of the Nation in the face of increased globalization is the excuse used to enact policies, and engage in discourses, that rely on such fanatical nationalism. The boogieman of the era are, largely, Muslims and immigrants who are accused of “overrunning” the clean, pristine, white western “democracies” with their incredibly high birth rates and their inferior cultural values leading them to be more prone to crime and “stealing” native inhabitants’ jobs. No mention is made of the continued ‘ghettoization’ and social exclusion by the mainstream society and capitalist economy of minority groups. Sharia law is the term that is often used to evoke this irrational fear.
The success enjoyed by such parties and their leaders is strongly tied to the disastrous economic policies which have plunged much of Europe in a situation of perpetual debt, and having to deal with the social-economic repercussions that come with it. The causes responsible for the rise of these parties are quite evident: in times of economic recession, people try to find a convenient scapegoat to blame for their problems and those of the nation. It is very convenient if the subject of this prejudice are marginalized, demonized, and have little to no recourse to counter the irrational finger pointing and social blame. Even if they did, it is unlikely that most people would listen. It is further convenient if such target groups are effectively second-class citizens that do not benefit the same rights and protection under the law, and whose lives and lifestyles are at risk – migrants and refugees – and who can be intimidated to not raise their voice and defend themselves with more or less direct threats of expulsion in case of misbehavior. This gives the chance for political leaders to exploit the fear of an uncertain future that economic hardship causes, project them onto a marginalized group or ethnic minority, and use it for their own ascension to power and the imposition of their beliefs.
To only blame economic conditions however would be far too simple and superficial. In many nations, the rise of far-right parties can be tied to a direct failure of governance, as well as historical trends of subjugation and colonization by imperial powers of the rest of the world. In fact, Europe and the rest of the imperialist world has never really addressed its ethnocentric perceptions that lead it to (more of less consciously) believe itself superior.
In the Netherlands, the rise of the far-right party is strictly tied to the creation and reinforcement of the superiority of Dutch white culture, which has been part an enduring part of the Dutch self-perception. In Greece, the proliferation of racially and politically motivated hate crimes by fascist elements has been largely tied to the Police’s complicity in the crimes, or its unwillingness to investigate the crimes seriously. Although the Golden Dawn party is emblematic of the sharp resurgence of European fascism, it is by no means an isolated example.
A Common Strategy
Europe is indeed witnessing a problem: the rise of fear-mongering populists on the far-right of the political spectrum, calling for the revamping of nationalist and traditionalist values, and endorsing outright racist, nativist, and xenophobic views. One can witness such a phenomenon in most European nations: Italy, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, and others all have more or less popular expressions of similar sentiments. Far from calling themselves fascist or far-right, they categorize themselves as “national conservatives”, “liberal democrats” or simply “conservatives”, or do not register themselves under a political ideology (non inscrits) in order to both avoid the historical and popular opposition to the term “far-right”. This is the case for parties such as the French “Front National”, the Dutch PVV, the Italian “Fiamma Tricolore”, the Belgian “Vlaams Belang”, and the Freedom Party of Austria.
It is not the first time that the various far-right parties in Europe have attempted to cooperate to increase their prominence at a European level. The latest took place in 2007 when a number of parties banded together to create a pan-European far-fight alliance named “Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty”. It was led by the French “Front National” (FN). The father of the current leader of the FN also attempted such a feat between 1989 and 1994 by creating the short-lived “Technical Group of the European Right”. However, such attempts were often short lived and relatively unsuccessful as they were consistently marred by internal disagreements. But this seems to be changing.
Fascism comes under many different forms, but adheres to some basic elements, especially because the political system is most often utilized for the manipulation of the disgruntled masses. It relies on the perpetuation of popular fears (whatever they may be) depending on the local and national contexts, and may even be constituted of workers and labourers.
As such it is not surprising that although many of the European far-right parties, despite perhaps targeting different groups, all seem to follow a similar model in different contexts, and as such now find much common ground to cooperate for the upcoming European Elections. Symbolizing these pragmatic alliances is the flirt between the Dutch and French far right Parties. The Dutch one being the Partij Voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom), led by the charismatic Geert Wilders and currently gobbling on the largest slice of the Dutch popular vote (and has even been voted “Politician of the Year” by South Hollanders), and the French Front National (National Front), led by the daughter of its controversial founder, Marie le Pen.
United by Hate – Birth of a Pan-European Alliance
Le Pen and Wilders met on November 13th in The Hague to discuss how to further cooperate in the creation of a pan-European alliance. Wilders and his party often criticize Muslims in the Netherlands for their homophobic attitudes, and pride themselves on this being one of the fundamental liberal values of the Netherlands that he and his party represent. On the other hand, Marie le Pen has been one of the most influential fighters in the battle against passing gay marriage laws in France. While Wilders speaks of the “Christian-Judeo culture” of the Netherlands, Marie le Pen has been suspected of anti-semitic attitudes, while her father is an expressed anti-semite.
Despite these fundamental differences, these two leaders do not have any qualms in cooperating for a power grab at a European level which would allow them to further their ambitions for power on their respective national stage. The reason behind this is that both leaders are aware that each other is using fear-tactics in their respective nations as a scare-tactic to emotionally manipulate the population in their support – no matter what that minority would be – Muslims in the Netherlands, and Jews in France. They also both claim to be the paladin defenders of their Christian and national white values, while abhorring those of migrants, despite their incapability to find a consensus on what these values really are – acceptance of sexual freedom and liberty in the Netherlands, and ascribing to traditional and “biblical” gender roles in France.
Similar flirtations are taking place between the various other far-right parties across Europe, although not nearly in as visible a fashion as Wilders and le Pen’s announcement of cooperation. In such deliberations ideological minutia are not the subject of discussion and discord. Rather, the system of political manipulation and the establishment of a fascist political system is the common goal, and fear-mongering is the common strategy. Despite being rhetorically largely anti-European and even calling from an exit of their respective nations from the Eurozone. these parties had no compunction in banding together in late 2010 to launch a European referendum that would have prevented Turkey’s entry in the EU. The rationale given for this was to “protect the union”. Later, in December 2010, in Heinz-Christian Strache (chairman of the Freedom Party of Austria), Belgian politician Filip Dewinter (Vlaams Belang), Kent Ekeroth (of the nationalist and anti-Islamic Sweden Democrats), and René Stadtkewitz (German Freedom Party) to take a trip to Israel to meet with Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and discussing “strategies against Islamic terror” before being hosted as honored visitors at the Israeli Parliament.
United in their hatred for Islam, these parties now have find much ground upon which to cooperate at a European level.
An Explosive Cocktail
Far-right parties are continuing their encroachment and infiltration of the European political landscape. When looking at the European Parliamentary elections year after year, one can immediately notice the consistent erosion of the socialist and leftist groups (and the ones remaining are, in any case, a “light” version of their predecessors), which may also account for the rise of parties and political entities on the opposite side of the political spectrum. However this rise is not immediately apparent, but can be witnessed when comparing the amount of seats held by such parties in the European Parliament, and the amount of seats gained since 2009 in their national governments’ parliaments.
Click here to see an overview of the elections’ results of the EU Parliament from 1979 to 2009.
In Italy, the Lega Nord (Northern League) already controls most of the northern regions as well as nine out of Italy’s seventy-three MEPs. The Dutch PVV is Europe’s far-right rising start, going from holding 5.9% of the electorate in 2006, to 15.4% four years later, and to now being placed by many polls as the most favoured party in the country. France’s FN is also enjoying enormous success in recent times as 42% of French citizens would consider voting for it at the upcoming municipal elections, and polls currently place it in the lead for the European Elections. Golden Dawn seems to maintain the majority of voters galvanized in Greece and is poised to achieve similar results in the upcoming European parliamentary elections. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party is the third largest in the nation, and steadily rising in polls. Similar trends are now apparent in almost every Northern European nation, as well as many others, and with the upcoming European elections to be held in May one question lingers – will the European far-right succeed in its efforts and acquire a sizable chunk of the European Parliament, allowing them to further their agendas and perhaps increase their prominence at their national respective levels?
Ruben Rosenberg Colorni