Far-right populist movements to shake up European continent
BERLINJan 02, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Jan 02, 2017 12:00 am
Across Europe, a brand of upstart politics that taps into populist discourse and anti-establishment feeling has been making steady gains. UKIP pushed strongly for Britain to leave the EU in a referendum campaign squarely focused on immigration. The right-wing populist party looks fairly strong despite a turbulent leadership change. UKIP rose to become the third-largest party in a general election in May 2015, winning 13 per cent of the votes but only one seat in parliament under Britain's constituency-based system. With no national elections expected in Britain until 2020, it only stands to gain from a few local elections in 2017. Austria's Freedom Party (FPOe) is the third-strongest force in parliament, but the far-right movement has been topping voter surveys this year with approval ratings of 35 per cent. The party's candidate, Norbert Hofer, suffered defeat in the 2016 presidential election, but the FPOe is hoping for early parliamentary elections next year to propel the rightists into government.
Founded in 2013, Germany's right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) started out as classically liberal party pushing for the dissolution of the euro, a decentralized European Union and a move towards Swiss-style, direct democracy. When the country faced an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants in 2015, the party ousted its more moderate founder and took a right-wing, anti-immigrant turn.
After a series of state elections, the AfD now sits in 10 of Germany's 16 state parliaments. It is currently polling between 10.5 and 13 per cent at the national level, meaning it will likely become the third-strongest party in the Bundestag at the election in 2017.
In Italy, the main far-right party is the Northern League. It used to advocate the secession of Italy's wealthier north from the poor south. Now touting an anti-EU, anti-migrants message, the party has recovered from 4 per cent in the 2013 general elections to about 11-12 per cent in current opinion polls. It has overtaken the party of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, Forza Italia, as the main right-wing party. The anti-establishment Five Star Movment, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, is Italy's biggest opposition force. It defies left-right categorizations. Its main rallying cries are clean politics, direct democracy and basic income support for all, but it also holds protectionist and eurosceptic views, and wants to hold a referendum on Italy's exit from the eurozone. At the next general elections it could emerge as Italy's biggest party, but its refusal to ally with other parties slims the chances of its being able to enter government.
In France, the National Front has made gains since Marine Le Pen took over party leadership from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. While the elder Le Pen did make it to the second round of the presidential elections against Jacques Chirac in 2002, the traditional conservative and left parties rallied to keep him from reaching the Elysée Palace. Marine Le Pen has worked to make the far-right party more palatable to the mainstream. While the National Front only holds four seats in the French parliament, it performed strongly in European elections in 2014. In 2017, Le Pen is expected to win the first round of the presidential elections with around 25 per cent and lose the second round with around 30 per cent, according to opinion surveys.
In Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats emerged as the third-largest party in 2014 with 13 per cent of the vote, doubling their share from 2010. No other party cooperates with them in parliament, but they have surged in polls and are now at around 17-18 per cent. This is partly seen as vindication of their stance in the wake of last year's surge in migration to the country.
The anti-immigration populist Danish People's Party became the Scandinavian country's second-largest party in 2015 with 21 per cent of the vote. The party opted not to join a new government, preferring to offer support to the minority government formed by Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in return for tighter asylum laws. That has been the party's strategy since 2001. Rasmussen recently broadened his governing base but remains reliant on the Eurosceptic populists.
In Greece, the Golden Dawn Party is still the third-strongest power in the Greek Parliament with 18 mandates in the 300-seat house. Current opinion surveys place the far-right extremist party at between 7 and 10 per cent. In the last elections in September, they clinched 7 per cent of the vote.