by Vanja Petricevic
June 19, 2017
Europe and its citizens find themselves in the midst of a radical right-wing vortex that has been sweeping across the European continent. Called on to withstand these political forces in the May 7 presidential run-off, French voters refused to succumb to the unwavering radical right-wing rhetoric of Marine Le Pen by casting a vote for a fairly new figure within political circles – Emmanuel Macron. In his victory speech, Macron mesmerized his supporters by his stage demeanor and eloquent disposition while expressing his gratitude to them for having engaged in a courageous fight. His assertive proclamation – “France won” – underscored the significance of this victory. However, one is left wondering: can we say the same for others who are still fighting a similar fight in Europe? The answer is rather daunting given the surge in right-wing radicalism in recent years.
While France has barely escaped falling into the far-right trap this time, the right-wing radicals’ allure will not fade anytime soon.
Several factors can drive voters into a niche that is fueled with opportunities to pass judgment. Euroskeptic hard-liners are undoubtedly emboldened by Brexit (as an example of what national independence looks like in the age of supranationalism and the push for a “wider and deeper” European Union. Britain's rejection of the EU resonates with certain sectors of the electorate that have lost trust in the EU’s ability to address their needs and wants, and which sympathetically position themselves toward the declining EU favorability rates. The far-right parties feed off of, what they consider to be weaknesses of the EU’s current state of affairs and utilize such as means of voter mobilization. However, in order to sustain themselves on the fringes of the political right, these parties are aware that running single-issue campaigns will not immerse them in the electoral fortunes they desire. Therefore, they continue to strategically re-position themselves by carving out spaces within the EU sphere of influence.
The far-right parties weave their way through electoral politics by proposing radical solutions to socio-economic and political problems.
The rise in immigration, the surge in terrorist attacks across Europe, continued uncertainty about proper protection of refugees arriving at European borders, and years of EU austerity-driven measures, among others, are complex and multi-dimensional issues. They deserve the EU’s and individual member states’ unreserved attention, but they are best addressed in a collaborative manner relying on the dynamics and diplomatic patterns that have been the basis of EU’s decision-making frameworks for decades. The far right’s euroskeptic tendencies, their blatant anti-immigration and anti-Islam stance, and their engagement in xenophobic discourse should be taken as a serious threat to the mere principles that underpin post-WWII European politics. Further attempts at anchoring divisions among different groups in their respective countries should not be passively ignored but electorally fought against.
While there might have been sighs of relief on both sides of the Atlantic with recent electoral defeats of Norbert Hofer in Austria, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Marine Le Pen in France, the fact that these parties managed to secure substantial electoral gains in national elections across Europe should serve as a wake-up call for European countries; many of which, up to this point, have largely sidelined the dangers that the far right poses to their countries and the EU as a whole. There is a growing ideological shift in Europe as exemplified by the ever so expanding support base of the far-right parties and their affiliate groups.
By necessity, countries should feel a sense of urgency to better understand and address the underlying causes of the surge of right-wing radicalism in their own countries. We live in an age where it is no longer enough to dismiss them as mere nuisances of politics as there is no guarantee that history cannot repeat itself or be exploited for the sole purpose of the far right’s electoral success. What we ought to dismiss is the misled notion that countries can build an armor of immunity which cannot be pierced by the far right.
The future elections in Europe and the rest of the world will be a litmus test for the far right – and also for the current course and dynamics of European and international politics. The far-right parties should not be allowed to slip under the radar but, if they do, voters should remain vigilant as these parties possess the capability to stage a sudden come-back when it is least expected. Thus, it is the duty of every voter to be informed and “not give in to fear”4 that these parties are trying to instill. They ought to be ready to protect the EU principles which ever so loudly echo the significance of the EU’s motto “United in Diversity”.
Vanja Petricevic is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Florida Gulf Coast University and a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.