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The myth of the ‘far right surge’ in Europe

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THERE has been much talk of a ‘far right surge’ in the European Parliament. For example, the BBC ran a headline ‘Far right eyes Europe vote surge’ shortly before the elections. On June 5, Politico reported, ‘As the far right surges, this week’s European Parliament election will reorder the Continent’s political landscape’. One of CNN’s post-election headlines ran ‘Far right surges in European Parliament elections but center still holds’. These headlines may make exciting reading, but they reveal a profound lack of understanding of what is really going on politically in Europe.

First, while you will always find pockets of far right thinking in Europe’s political system, the notion that new and emerging political parties on the right are generally ‘far right’ is simply false. For example, if you go to the webpage of one of the major emerging political groups that is supposed to be part of the ‘far right surge’, the European Conservatives and Reformists, you are greeted not by neo-Nazi slogans, but by commitments to ‘safeguarding citizens and borders’, ‘respecting the rights and sovereignty of member States’, ‘protecting the global environment at a cost we can afford’, ‘improving the union’s efficiency and effectiveness’ and ‘co-operating with global partners’.

If you peruse the website of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), the political party associated with the supposedly ‘far right’ Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in search of reactionary and extremist ideas, you will be deeply disappointed. The website displays a fairly humdrum list of policies to promote economic growth, a safer Europe, a better health system, policies to support families and boost the birth rate, opposition to bio-surveillance (‘green pass’), and the need to combat illegal immigration.

Here, for example, is a translation of one paragraph from the Brothers of Italy’s European electoral platform, concerning immigration:

‘It must be Europe that decides who enters its territory and not criminal organisations or external actors interested in using migratory flows as a weapon to destabilise governments. Immigration must be framed within a context of legality and addressed in a structural manner. Saving lives is a duty, as is protecting those entitled to asylum, but the model favoured by the left – characterised by indiscriminate acceptance and never-implemented redistributions [of migrants] – has proved to be a failure.’

Anyone who describes these policies as ‘far right’ is either deeply deluded or simply determined to discredit their political adversaries by any means available. Yet this lazy, dishonest and demonising treatment of the new right parties in Europe, which mostly ignores their actualelectoral platforms, is now standard fare in mainstream Western media.

The term ‘far right’ should be reserved for political groups that oppose constitutionalism, are rabidly racist, or want to institute an authoritarian State akin to fascist Italy or Nazi Germany. Instead, the term has degenerated into a cheap label used to discredit political conservatives.

This label is being attached indiscriminately to people who take political positions that are not in vogue among those who self-identify as ‘woke’ and/or ‘progressive’, even if these same positions were considered fairly conventional a couple of decades ago. People are labelled ‘far right’ if they defend the idea of a national identity, want an orderly immigration process, advocate laws that are tough on crime, believe in traditional marriage and biological markers for gender, or believe that civil rights such as informed consent are still relevant during a pandemic.

If you want to understand why new parties are emerging on the right, throwing around the ‘far right’ label will not get you very far. What is really happening is that the traditional right-wing parties, many of which are represented by Europe’s largest political group, the European People’s Party, have jumped ship on a lot of traditional right-wing commitments, creating a vacuum to be filled by the ‘new right’.

On the watch of mainstream ‘right-wing’ parties, rule of law and limited government have been replaced with vaccine passports, lockdowns, intrusive hate speech laws, crippling ‘green’ taxes and regulations, and the Orwellian idea that we should clamp down on ‘disinformation’ lest citizens be exposed to ‘dangerous’ ideas.

The old right has overseen a Europe of uncontrolled and disorderly immigration, with no proper vetting of migrants and little consideration for the impact of large-scale migration on local communities. The old commitment of the right to law and order has given way to complacency and inaction in the face of a growing crime problem in Europe’s cities.

This has created a pent-up political demand for parties prepared to avow traditional right-wing commitments, such as law and order, orderly immigration, freedom of speech, pro-family taxation and welfare policies, and limited government.

In some cases, this political vacuum has been filled with egregiously xenophobic, racist and authoritarian rhetoric. But in many other cases, parties dismissed as ‘far right’ are simply questioning the wisdom of open border policies, exposing abuses of the refugee system, defending free speech, and trying to moderate the green agenda so that it is not so oppressive for farmers and ordinary citizens.

If having serious concerns about immigration and being opposed to far-reaching environmental regulations is considered ‘extreme’, it appears that being ‘extreme’ is now pretty normal in Europe. A recent opinion poll shows that immigration is one of the leading concerns for European voters, after the economy and war. In addition, the abysmal performance of the Greens in these EU elections – dropping from 71 to 53 seats – suggests that the Greens’ enthusiasm for ambitious climate regulations is not shared by many voters.

In short, two of the central concerns of the new right – uncontrolled immigration and excessively burdensome environmental regulations – are shared by a sizeable number of European voters.

Finally, there was no ‘surge’ to speak of among the new and emerging parties on the right: more like a moderate consolidation. The new right in Europe is still significantly outnumbered in the EU Parliament by centrists and leftists. For example, the European Conservatives and Reformist and Identity and Democracy groups, which are the most organised sections of the new right, grew from 118 to 131 seats in a 720-member parliament. The European People’s Party, with 189 MEPs, has enough allies on the left to continue to maintain a commanding presence in the parliament.

The rise of alternative-right parties in these EU elections is thus vastly over-tated. Nonetheless, the steady consolidation of the new right, combined with the decisive triumph of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National over Macron’s Renaissance party in these elections, shows that there is a growing appetite among European voters for candidates and parties that make stricter border controls and scaling back environmental regulations a major part of their electoral platforms.

This does not fundamentally overturn the balance of power in the European Parliament. However, it does suggest a rightward shift in public sentiment in Europe, and this will inevitably have an impact on the policymaking process. Most notably, we are likely to see ‘centre-right’ parties like the European People’s Party adopting a softer line on the environment, and a harder line on immigration, going forward. Anything else would put their own political future in jeopardy.

This article appeared in The Freedom Blog on June 14, 2024, and is republished by kind permission. 

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David Thunder
David Thunder
David Thunder is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Navarra’s Institute for Culture and Society in Pamplona, Spain.

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