Increasing numbers of far-right parties in Europe

On June 28, 2023, in Paris, a protester wearing a mask holds a red flare

On a knife edge is France.

After a 17-year-old from a French-Algerian family was fatally shot by police this week near Paris, unrest began to spread throughout the nation and erupted from the banlieues, the frequently socially neglected suburbs.

Riots of this nature are not unheard of in France. However, France hasn't seen this level of emotion since the summer of 2005, whether it's among those who support the police or the banlieues and the victim's family.

And while President Macron struggles to control the situation, Marine Le Pen of the far-right, with her message of strict security and anti-immigration, may end up doing better in the polls.

Right now, you can see far-right parties of all stripes, including nostalgic nationalist, populist nationalist, ultra conservative with neo-fascist roots, and more, enjoying a noticeable resurgence throughout Europe, in the north, south, east, and west.

French National Front (FN) political party leader Marine Le Pen delivers a speech during a FN political rally in Frejus in 2016
Emmanuel Macron's difficulties in quelling the riots may work in Marine Le Pen's favor. Here is a photo of her from 2016.

Old taboos, such as the belief that you should never again vote for the extreme right and the refusal of mainstream political parties to work with far-right organizations, are slowly eroding as a result of Europe's devastating 20th Century war against the Nazis and fascist Italy.   .

In 2000, when the center-right joined forces with the far-right Freedom Party to form a coalition government, I was a resident of Vienna. Around the world, it garnered headlines. Even Vienna was subject to diplomatic sanctions by the EU.

Italy, the third-largest economy in the EU, is currently led by Giorgia Meloni, the leader of a party with neo-fascist roots. After three months of discussion, the far-right nationalist group The Finns recently joined Finland's coalition government.

Sweden Democrats, the country's second-largest party in parliament and a staunch opponent of immigration and multiculturalism, support the right-wing coalition government there.

The controversial nationalist Vox Party, the first successful far-right party in Spain since the assassination of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, exceeded all expectations in recent regional elections in Spain, while three hard-right parties won enough seats in Greece last Sunday to gain entry into parliament.

President of Vox political party Santiago Abascal attends a political rally in Ciudad Real, Spain, 21 May 2023
Vox of Spain, run by Santiago Abascal, sees itself as the kingmaker and has risen to 14% in the polls.

Following the national elections in three weeks, there is talk of them forming a coalition government with the conservatives.

Then there are the ferociously conservative, totalitarian regimes in Poland and Hungary.

In fact, the list is endless.

Germany is one example, which is still very sensitive about its fascist past.

According to recent polls, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the far-right AfD are now virtually tied. The first local leadership position for the AfD was won last weekend. "A political dam-breaker," the SPD referred to it.

Are tens of millions of European voters actually leaning far-right? Is this more of a protest vote? Is this a sign of the polarization between urban liberal voters and the rest of the conservative population? And what exactly do we mean when we refer to parties as "far-right"?

Robert Sesselmann of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party speaks at an election event in Sonneberg, eastern Germany on June 25, 2023
The far-right AfD party of Germany recently won its first district election in eastern Germany and is currently leading polls.

Look at how rigid some mainstream politicians can be, particularly in the run-up to elections, on issues like security or immigration – I'm looking at you, self-described centrist Emmanuel Macron. Take, for example, the right-leaning Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

According to Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, we are confronted with a significant paradox.

On the one hand, many mainstream politicians in recent years have appropriated phrases or positions from the far-right in an effort to siphon off their supporters. However, they contribute to making the far right appear more mainstream by doing this.

While doing so, a number of far-right parties in Europe have purposefully shifted more toward the political center in an effort to win over more centrist voters.

Consider how people feel about Russia. The League in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Freedom Party Far in Austria were just a few of the many far-right parties that had long had strong ties to Moscow.

After Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, that became more than awkward, prompting party leaders to modify their messaging.

Another illustration of their "centrification" given by Mark Leonard is the far-right's interactions with the EU.

You might recall that after the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, Brussels feared a domino effect, with France, Denmark, Italy, and other countries following suit.

Deeply anti-EU populist parties once enjoyed success in many European countries, but over time, those parties felt compelled to give up calling for the EU or even its single currency to be abandoned.

For many European voters, that was too radical.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on stage giving his speech at the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Convention Centre
Boris Johnson, the former prime minister of the UK, speaking at a Conservative Party Conference.

They looked at the social and political - never mind the hotly-debated economic impact - Brexit had in the UK and many concluded that exiting the EU would cause further destabilisation in a world that already feels very volatile.

Think: Covid pandemic, living next door to aggressive, unpredictable Russia, worrying about China, struggling with soaring living costs - with millions of European families still suffering the after-effects of the 2008 economic crisis.

According to polls, the EU is currently more well-liked by Europeans than it has been in years.

Right-wing political parties now emphasize reforming the EU over leaving it. They are also expected to perform well in the upcoming elections for the European Parliament.

Paris-based Director of Institut Montaigne's Europe Programme Georgina Wright told me she believes the far-right renaissance in Europe is largely down to dissatisfaction with the political mainstream.  Currently in Germany, 1 in 5 voters say they're unhappy with their coalition government, for example.

Wright said many voters in Europe are attracted by the outspokenness of parties on the far-right and there's tangible frustration that traditional politicians don't appear to have clear answers in 3 key areas of life: .

You can see how these issues are influencing the conversation in Europe about green energy.

In the Netherlands this year, the right-wing populist Farmer-Citizen Movement made headlines by grabbing the largest number of seats of any party in the upper house of parliament after provincial elections.

When Emmanuel Macron attempted to raise gasoline prices in France in an effort to discourage people from traveling by car, he was met with so-called yellow vest protesters, including far-right organizations.

While in Germany, public concern and anger about finances is holding back the Green Party sitting in government from introducing environmental reforms it promised.

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