Resurgence of the Populist, Anti-Immigrant Right

While the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups in Europe has been documented in the last ten years (though perhaps not as closely as they warranted) by media outlets like The Guardian or Geo-Currents the rise in support for populist, not-quite-as-ultra-right parties is even more pervasive and less documented.

Conservative parties with neo-libertarian economics and anti-immigration, moralistic rhetoric have gained significant support in various countries throughout the region. I’m going to be including Australia in this discussion because for a country on the far side of the world it is and always has been politically linked to Europe.

The UK, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Norway have all elected centre right or simply right-wing parties to head their governments in the last five years.

France elected Sarkozy as president with his party the Union for Popular Movement in 2007. A party so populist they put it in the name. The centre right gained 46.36% of the vote. Immigration and cultural assimilation were issues that rose in the early days of the government. The France National Front, has gained more support than they have had in years with young article leaders like Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who founded FN in the 1980s, attempting to rebrand the fiercely anti-immigrant party who have been accused in the past of desecrating Jewish cemeteries, denying the Nazi occupation of France was all that brutal and still use rhetoric about ‘protecting the French way of life’.

2010 and 2011 saw the UK and Ireland replace their governments with similar alternatives. The UK replaced their Labour party, who had been in power since 1997, with a Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition with the conservatives taking 36.1% of the national vote. Ireland replaced the three term reign of Fianna Fáil, centre party, with a coalition of Fine Gael (centre-right) and the Irish Labour party (centre). Fine Gael took 36% of the national vote.

What links these two elections, besides the coalitions, were that there were other factors influencing the radical shift in leadership. The European economic downturn, accusations of unethical practises by elected officials and in the case of the UK the Iraq war. However they unseated long running governments who had remained popular despite concerns such as this so they remain relevant to the regional trend.

The British Conservative government under the leadership of David Cameron have implemented anti-immigration laws that make it possible to deport people who are not citizens but who have little or no connection to any other country and whose family life is in the UK. These new regulations also make it harder for immigrants to access key services such as the National Health Service. 

London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

The Netherlands has had a particularly noticeable shift to the right in recent years. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) gained 26.58% of the vote in 2012. Their website lays out the party policies which include being anti-veiling, anti-immigration, pro-financial deregulation and use the phrase “economic migrants” in their policy on asylum seekers. It also states that “without security there is no freedom”.

Then came the victory of the National Coalition over Labor in Australia. Cathal covered this story for us and how, despite the fact that Labor had been in power for six very successful years and that the Coalition leader Tony Abbott is not particularly popular in his own right, the right-wing, anti-immigration party took the election last week.

Only days ago in Norway, the Conservative Party won a landslide victory over the Labour Party who had been in power for the last two decades. The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) have been consistently popular and led Norway through the European economic situation unscathed. Not only that but it was the Labour Party’s youth organisation that were the target of the terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people most of them youths in 2011. Breivik was a member of the Progress Party who are now going into coalition with the Conservatives to form the new parliament. The coalition is taking time to finalise because other conservative parties do not want to be seen to be associated with a party with ties to a mass murderer. However despite this the Conservatives and Progress Party do not actually need any other coalition partners if they simply form a minority government.

I do have to take a moment now, to step back from the statistics and initialisms to applaud the grace with which Vegard Groslie Wennesland, a 29 year old survivor of Breivik’s attack, handled the possible election of the Progress Party in government. While he did say that their anti-immigration rhetoric concerned him he also said that Breivik has not and will not win.

Vegard Grøslie Wennesland – Oslo/Arbeiderpartiet

“Someone tried to kill me and my comrades for what we believe in and that kind of stirs a feeling that it’s important work you’re doing. You can make a difference through politics – I’m more sure of that now than ever”.  — Wennesland

One of Breivik’s, and if we’re honest, the Progress Party’s big concerns is that immigration means a higher Muslim population which some right-wing politicians believe somehow threatens Europe.

It seems relevant to point out that when I was researching this article, I began to type “Europe growing increasingly conservative” into Google to see who else was writing about this (not that many people all in all) one of the first Google autofill suggestions was “Europe growing Muslim population”.

google autofill 1

Given how the Google algorithm works, that’s a concerning note all by itself.

As though that was not concerning enough however, if you follow that Google search you do not find census data at the top but rather articles shouting that we are a generation away from Sharia law due to these “demographics” demonstrating that these reporters (in the loosest sense of the word) don’t know what either of the words “Sharia” or “demographic” mean.

The Telegraph, in the article ‘Muslim Europe: the demographic time bomb transforming our continent’ which I refuse to link to in this article to preserve a sense of journalist ethics, state that: “Britain and the rest of the European Union are ignoring a demographic time bomb”.

The, what I hesitant to call an article, then goes on to reveal that “Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza” were the top seven baby names for boys in the city of Brussels without applying any context for why anyone who isn’t trying to think of baby names for their child or hasn’t recently hit their head off a wall would even care about this very specific example of one city in one country. And even if you chose for some reason to care Adam is obviously not a Muslim name and neither is Rayan specifically because it has etymological origins from ancient Celts, Old English, Hindi, Persian and Hebrew as well as Arabic not to mention the fact that many Arabs of religions other than Islam still have Arabic names. The fact that I even had to write this paragraph convinced my never to read the Telegraph ever again.

But trivial scaremongering nonsense about baby names aside, Islamophobia is now an election issue and when I say that I mean that there are people in Europe who were successfully elected into office who believe expelling all Muslims from Europe would be a good idea. Holland’s Geert Wilder actually said “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” in an interview with the Guardian and remained in office.

The Telegraph article and statement by leaders of some of the parties I have name here have cited the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups as a reason to vote populist right wing, in order to deal with the problems with ‘create’ situations that lead to violent right-wing extremist. The rise of right-wing fundamentalists has in fact aided the populist right.

I hate to be alarmist but I am alarmed.

All election data is from the European Election Database.

Orla-Jo

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