The West slides to the right

Less than five months after taking the reins of power at the national level, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her coalition of conservatives have now secured clear election victories in the two wealthiest regions of the country.

"This result consolidates the centre-right and strengthens the work of the government," a triumphant Meloni posted on Twitter shortly after the results certified the right-wing bloc’s grip on power.

This was not Europe’s first slip, and certainly not the last by any means. What began more than a decade ago is now a permanent feature of European politics – the rise of the far-right.

Across the continent, once known for displaying resilience against communism, populists have been consolidating. If not absolute victories, they have certainly increased their presence and role in European power structures – with larger shares of vote in recent legislative polls.

Resounding successes for right-wing parties in Sweden, and more recently in Italy, indicate that acceptance for their political views has increased considerably.

According to Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world, both in Italy and Sweden, right-wing populist parties have made significant electoral gains. The Brothers of Italy party secured the highest vote share of any single party in recent polls. Similarly, culminating their steady gains over the last six parliamentary polls, the far-right Sweden Democrats, surfaced as the second-most popular party in Sweden’s recent elections – doubling their vote share since 2014.

Elsewhere in Europe, support for right-leaning parties or political movements has also increased significantly. According to Pew, the share of the vote going to the populists in Spain doubled between 2015-2019. And more recently, Vox, a relatively new national-conservative political party that entered the arena in 2013, saw its fortunes soar from 10 % to 15%.

Two years ago, similar trends were seen in the Netherlands where right-leaning parties amassed around 16% of the vote – something the Dutch had not witnessed in more than a decade of parliamentary polls.

Populists have also strengthened their grip on power in Eastern Europe, which once used to be a stronghold of communism. Particularly, in Hungary’s case, where far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the country’s longest serving leader since the collapse of the Soviet influence, the European parliament itself was forced to raise the red flag, declaring it a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.

While right-wing parties are delighted over such victories across Europe, leaders in Berlin and Paris have released guarded statements in response to the upheaval that has the potential to fundamentally change Europe’s course and eventually its destiny.

In a terse statement issued by the Élysée Palace, French President, Emmanuel Macron, said he respected the electoral decision of the Italian people. On the other hand, his prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, said that her country would monitor human rights – and, in particular, access to abortion rights, very closely.

Such electoral convulsions, experts believe, can become common across Europe in the future and with that the deterioration of democratic standards, fundamental rights and the rule of law can also become more pronounced – particularly in countries being governed by far-right parties.

“For them issues like human rights, immigration and climate change are an anathema. Far-right parties do not care about such causes and issues,” cautioned Professor Ashok Swain, a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Sweden’s Uppsala University.

The politics of right-wing populists, according to Professor Swain, finds its strength in the ‘otherisation’ and ‘demonisation’ of migrants who ‘infiltrate their straight social structure’ where one group dominates. “The decline in the ideological strength and abandonment of values once openly defended, has enabled the far-right to create space and acceptance for its brand of politics,” added the Uppsala-based academic.

Not too long ago, the European Commission’s (EC) ideological strength was put to test by Hungary’s Orbán. During a speech in Romania last year, the far-right leader argued that countries where European and non-European people mingle, can no longer qualify as nations. Hungary, Orbán boasted, is not ‘mixed race’. The remarks left Brussels tongue-tied – so much so that the EC declined to comment. But the ordeal for European policymakers did not end here. A few months after the controversial remarks, Orbán tightened the abortion laws, which according to the BBC made the process of pursuing a termination more bureaucratic for pregnant women.

With populists polling well in several countries, a right-wing resurgence in Europe appears to be inevitable. The game-changing upsurge in support for nationalist such as the Brothers of Italy party, and Sweden Democrats, shows that Europe is no longer immune to hard-right populists.

“For those following the far-right, to see the rise of such groups, including political parties, throughout Europe is not surprising,” said Dr. Heidi Beirich, who is the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE).

“Meloni’s election in Italy, followed the far-right Sweden Democrats taking power, the far-right National Rally increasing its representation in France, and in Hungary, Fidesz, the party of far-right prime minister Viktor Orban, continues to bolster its strength. Meanwhile in Ireland, the anti-immigrant Irish Freedom Party continues to grow. And, in the US, despite his support for far-right extremism and his increasingly conspiratorial views, Trump continues to enjoy widespread support as other far-right politicians jump into the election ring,” cautioned Dr. Beirich.

When asked about the surge in the popularity of radical right parties, Beirich said: “Around the world, these political players learn from each other, share tactics, and exploit social media to achieve their ends.”

Numerous far-right groups, she pointed, used COVID as a way to expand their movements, especially by tapping into fear as well as lockdown protests.

“That’s the thing about the far-right, they will use whatever they can to recruit people into their movements. Right now, we are sadly seeing that happen in many countries that have an influx of immigrants, something that will continue with climate change,” the Expert on right-wing extremism added.

On the up globally, right-leaning political parties in Europe – in particular have much more to capitalise on and celebrate these days. According to Dr. Beirich, they tap into concerns regarding legitimate prevailing issues.

“One thing that we may see more of is that far-right leaders will tap into the concern people have regarding legitimate issues such as high cost of living and inaccessibility of affordable housing and blame the “other”, for example refugees and other immigrants, especially those who are Muslim or have darker skin,” she said. These Europe-wide trends, Dr. Beirich warned, will get worse.

“With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and climate change, this will not get any better. To blame immigrants is ridiculous of course, but in doing so, these far-right leaders simplify the problem, find somebody to blame, and build their base,” she added.

But Europe’s right-wing nightmare does not end here. According to Daphne Halikiopoulou, Professor of Comparative Politics at University of Reading, Europe’s right-wing has been modifying institutional structures of European democracies and will continue to do so.

Halikiopoulou, who has conducted extensive research that exposes far-right parties, wrote in a paper published by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), a German political foundation, that the continuing rise of right-wing populism may be stalled in some countries but the overall level of support is still strong. This trend, Halikiopoulou said, indicates that the challenge to liberal democracies is not over.

How do they operate?

History is riddled with accounts that link the rise of the far-right to political and economic crises and to general public discontent. That may have been the case in the 1930s, propelling Adolf Hitler to power in Weimar Germany.

But the contemporary right-wing parties in Europe have been steadily gaining momentum, increasing their electoral share and political power in the continent for more than two decades, crawling from the margins into the political mainstream. This rapid increase in political share, experts believe, has emerged as a significant threat to Europe’s unity and liberal democracies across the continent appear more vulnerable.

Observers watching Europe's electoral landscape change believe the level of threat posed by the far-right may vary depending on the country and degree of their power.

“Throughout history, we have seen politicians divide people and pit constituencies against each other to build their base and stay in power. We’ve seen authoritarian leaning politicians spread hate and extremism – oftentimes via social media to reach more people –to build their base. This is an extremely dangerous tactic in part because it is so effective,” said Dr. Beirich.

Uppsala University’s Professor Swain, who has published innumerable articles on the subject, believes that Europe’s liberal democracies are facing an existential threat in the form of right-wing nationalists.

“The strength of the far-right parties has forced European countries to take measures which go against the liberal value system they've advocated for so long. Matters related to migrants, security and climate have become more susceptible to influence by political extremists,” said Dr. Swain.

“Once they garner domestic support, right-wing parties tend to influence all domains, including foreign policy,” the Sweden-based academic explained. Under pressure from the far-right, immigration policies of Europe, he pointed, have changed significantly. “Perhaps such policies are modified to appease the right-wing parties within Europe.”

“UK decided to exit or end its union with Europe, Iceland withdrew its bid to join the EU. A champion of migrant-friendly policies, liberal Europe is being cowed into submission,” Professor Swain added.

Can this trend be reversed?

For the far-right, there is no shortage of issues that they can exploit for political gains. The conflict in Ukraine continues to provide them with newer and more divisive debates. To reverse their momentum, experts believe, countries will have to make a stronger commitment to the democratic values that appear to have weakened over time.

“To reverse the decay caused by the right-wing, countries that have been known for being democracies will have to return to their values and also support the policies which encourage other countries to remain democratic and respect basic human rights,” said Dr. Swain.

“Frankly, I don't see that happening. Now, it is more about who belongs to whose camp. That is what we see in this new age of global power politics rather than powerful democratic countries trying to strengthen their fraternity. The fragmentation of the western world and its value system is part of the problem. There is less agreement on the common good as it was some decades ago,” the Uppsala-based professor cautioned.

Concurring with Dr.Swain’s views, GPAHE’s expert on right-wing extremism, Dr. Beirich stressed the need for global alliances that promote stronger democracies and democratic values. “We believe the movement to support inclusive democracy is larger and stronger than far-right movements.”

“Far-right movements, and the hate and extremism they embody, are a threat to freedom, safety, and democracy everywhere. One of the best ways to stop these movements from spreading is to expose them. We need to ensure that the public, policy makers, tech companies, the media, and other stakeholders have the tools to identify far-right actors and movements so they can effectively counter them,” said Dr. Beirich.

According to the expert on extremism, tech companies are part of the problem. “They can make a choice to be part of the solution. For instance, YouTube still allows the international network Generation Identity, a French far-right group that carries out attacks on young Arabs, and makes Nazi salutes to use its platform and make money from their hatred. Similarly, Facebook and Twitter recently allowed former US president Donald Trump to return, even though the dangers of that decision are clear. We’ve documented how the companies continue to allow political leaders to spread hate and disinformation, contrary to the companies’ own rules and promises, which further undermines democracy,” said Dr. Beirich, who is a veteran of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the most prestigious civil rights organizations in the US.

What is working in their favour?

Waning commitment to the commonly agreed values, weaker opposition – that usually fails to present a unified front, and lastly, the far-right appears to be profiting from the increasing public dissatisfaction on a raft of issues – particularly – immigration, economy, energy, borders and cost of living.

According to Professor Swain, lack of ideological strength and coherence allows such groups to thrive. “Generally, the new era of global power politics has created space for such parties and ideologies. The fragmentation of the western world is part of the problem. There is less agreement on the common good as it was some decades ago.”

Long-term consequences

Long-term consequences of the spread of far-right authoritarianism include increase in hate-motivated violence and killing, the restrictions of human rights as well as the continuation of white supremacy and racism infiltrating societies.

“Ultimately, the rise of extremism threatens entire democracies,” warned Dr.Beirich.

“We are deeply concerned that the more the far-right infiltrates politics in US, Europe and beyond, people will experience great reduction in access to human rights as well as face racially or other hate motivated violence,” said the expert, while elaborating her concerns about Europe’s lurch to the right.

“You don’t need to look far to see how the far-right has influenced policy decisions already, for example when it comes to equality, the treatment of immigrants, and the efforts to restrict access to abortions. Not to mention, the incredible threat of violence inspired by far-right movements including “the great replacement” conspiracy theory that has inspired racially motivated killings around the world,” she concluded

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker