It may seem hard to believe but large parts of Europe enthusiastically and openly cheered the declaration of war in 1914. That war eventually consumed all of Europe and became more famous as the Great War or as is now better known as World War I. The First World War was undoubtedly an expression of nationalist sentiments that ran very high in Europe. By the end of the war, national sentiments had been subdued in much of Western Europe while the unequal treaty at Versailles fanned fascist sentiments in Germany and even Italy. It was the horrors unleashed by the supposedly nationalist government in Germany that dealt a temporary halt to the onward march of Nationalism in Europe. Liberalism, left of center politics and a general disdain for Nationalist politics came to define post-war Europe. But underneath it all, nationalist sentiments continued to smoulder. Right of Center parties continued to win power every now and then but the political discourse had definitely lurched to the left after the Second World War.
Imagine then, the shock in all of France when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader for Front National, a blatantly semitic, xenophobic, far-right
party made it to the second round of the French Presidential Elections in 2002, defeating the socialist Lionel Jospin in the first round. Jacques Chirac, who won the Presidency eventually, refused to even debate with Jean Marie Le Pen. However, 2002 seems like ages ago, given how the European political landscape has drastically changed since then. Every crisis that Europe has had to face in recent times has further disillusioned the voters from Left-liberal policies that have been dominant for over 5 decades. Over the last 10-15 years, Right-Wing political groups have reclaimed the political space that they had lost to the Center-Left over the years.
Nowhere has this been clearer than in Germany. For years- both the Socialist SPD and the conservative CPD, widely seen as two sides of a coin ruled the roost in Germany’s political system. However, the impact of economic events, such as the Eurozone crisis that has been raging since 2009, the apparently suicidal pro-immigrant stand taken by Chancellor Merkel combined with voter fatigue with the existing political dispensations has fuelled the rise of AfD (Alternative for Germany). Founded in 2013, the AfD by 2017 had won ~13% of the popular vote, winning it 94 seats in the German Parliament. At the same time, it enjoyed sizeable representation in many German states. In times when Chancellor Merkel was openly calling for immigration into Germany, the AfD was able to capture the fancy of the masses by taking an expressly anti-immigrant stand. At the same time, AfD did not shy away from topics that had long been forbidden in the political discourse- Euroscepticism, German nationalism, anti-liberalism. Given AfD’s success, it is apparent that these topics did excite large sections of masses that propelled AfD to electoral success. The challenges faced by Angela Merkel in returning to power as the Chancellor in the 2017 German elections were in no small part due to the superlative performance of the AfD.
On the other side of the Rhine too, the Right-wing is on the ascendant. Jean Marie Le Pen’s daughter Marine Le Pen brought in high levels of organization to the Front National (FN), expelled her father and other unsavoury elements to reinvent the party as the Rassemblement National. While retaining much of FN’s ideology such as Euroscepticism, French nationalism, populism and anti-immigrant stance, Marine has sought to do away with the image of hooliganism and anti-semitism that defined the party. By 2011, Marine Le Pen had catapulted the party firmly into national discourse- the party won 15% of popular vote in local elections in 2011 (up from ~5%, 3 years ago). In the Presidential elections held in 2012, Marine was a candidate and won ~18% votes, the highest ever for the party. Marine was also a tough contender against Emanuel Macron in the Presidential elections held in 2017, winning ~34% votes in the second round. The party has 8 deputies in the French National Assembly and 358 seats in various regional councils.
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In Hungary too, the right-wing has been the dominant political force for over a decade. Fidesz, under Victor Orban has championed right-wing & populist issues, especially his country’s unrelenting stance on accepting immigrants. He has been richly rewarded by Hungarian voters. On the other hand is Jobbik, which describes itself as even more right-wing than Orban’s Fidesz. Jobbik has enjoyed moderate electoral success since its inception in 2014 and was the second-largest party in Hungarian National Assembly following 2018 elections.
The Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is a prominent force to be reckoned with in the Austrian political spectrum. With ~27% of the popular vote in 2017 elections, the party entered the government as a junior coalition partner. Interestingly, the party candidate in the 2016 Presidential elections, won the first round before being defeated in the second round, where he won ~46% of the vote. The League, formerly Northern League, is a prominent right-wing dispensation in Italy that espouses the cause of right-wing populism, combined with Euroscepticism and anti-immigration plank. It was the third-largest party in Italy following the 2018 elections and entered the government. As per opinion polls, the party continues to enjoy widespread support even after being pushed out of the government last year. In Poland, Conservatives continue to be at the country’s helm and have come under bitter criticism for pursuing laws and policies that do not conform to EU guidelines.
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It is apparent and clear that Right Wing politics has been on the ascendant
in Europe for some time now. Crises, such as the financial crisis in the EU or the immigrant crisis that the EU brought upon itself have fuelled the rise of the Right Wing. The economic impact of the Chinese virus, brought on by extended lockdowns and the horrifying death tolls have not endeared governments to their citizens, it remains to be seen how the European Right-Wing establishes itself as the popular alternative to the Center-Left.