- A Changing Political Landscape: The Growth of the Far-Right in Europe - November 3, 2023
European politics is becoming increasingly fragmented and polarised with far-right parties advancing throughout the continent. Italy has a far-right government; far-right parties in France and Spain are gaining traction, and traditional right-leaning conservatives are edging further right in the United Kingdom. This move away from centrist politics is a trend which has grown in recent years across Europe as different crises have developed.
There was a time when far-right parties in government were frowned upon by the European community. Austria, for instance, suffered severe backlash in the late nineties when the far-right Freedom Party entered into a coalition with Austria’s conservative People’s Party. Measures were imposed, diplomatic visits were cancelled, and the EU implemented sanctions. However, in the past decade, the far-right is becoming normalized across democratic Europe.
Crises can be attributed to changes in political ideologies. The global financial crisis of 2008, the migration crisis, the pandemic and subsequent lock-downs, and the war in Ukraine are all attributed to the steady rise of far-right populism throughout Europe. These recurrent crises highlight a consistent failure of current leaders to meet demands of protection; protection against war, economic crashes, and immigration. This failure pushes individuals towards parties that offer different and extreme methods of protection. Such as expanding military power and cracking-down on so-called illegal migration. Here, far-right parties gain the opportunity to position themselves as champions of strength and safeguarding, offering new hard-line politics on immigration, economics, and nationalism.
Looking across Western Europe, many right-winged politicians in Italy, France, Spain, and the UK follow a similar rhetoric. Severe (ethno)-nationalism and a return to traditional values are often at the forefront of these far-right parties. Often this nationalism is combined with anti-immigration and anti-minority politics. In this sense, these far-right parties weaponize culture, spreading mistrust of the mainstream and establishing a war on ‘woke’.
In 2022, Italy made waves by electing not only their first female Prime Minister but also their most right-winged party since World War Two. Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), headed by Giorgia Meloni focuses on curtailing immigration, promoting traditional Christian values and protecting Western civilisation through extreme nationalism. But despite becoming one of the most right-winged parties within Europe, the election of FdI to power in Italy was not necessarily a surprise. Populist right-winged parties had been steadily on the rise in Italy since the 1990s, gaining strength and support throughout the party system.
Meloni herself hails from a neo-fascist background, having joined the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement Party – a far-right neo-fascist group – at age 15. As Prime Minister, she has also tightened relationships with other far-right political groups within Europe. She supported and rallied the far-right Vox Party in Spain prior to the July 2023 election, while at home has cut benefits and enacted strict rules on same-sex parents. As a whole, members of FdI have been accused of using the language of populist platforms, and spreading xenophobic, racist, anti-immigration, and nationalist speech. Regardless, Meloni has morphed into one of Europe’s most powerful leaders.
In France, the far-right remains a key player in voting trends. Marine Le Pen’s party National Rally remains the single biggest opposition party to Macron’s Renaissance despite losing both the 2017 and 2022 elections. The influence of the far-right National Rally is only growing, with the party improving their performance in the 2022 election, winning 41.46% of votes. The National Rally as a party, maintain a strong anti-immigration policy focusing on ensuring strong nationalism. This sentiment has only grown stronger in recent years, with the party pledging to focus on migration policies, the cost of living, and security amid growing public concern surrounding these issues.
The National Rally has not gone without controversy, however. With a majority in the French parliament feeling that the party had made racist or xenophobic comments in regard to migration issues. Regardless, based on the trajectory of their performance between the 2017 and 2022 elections, analysts believe that Le Pen has a high chance of winning power in France in the 2027 elections. If this is the case, with France as one of the most influential powers in the EU, the political landscape of Europe could be drastically altered.
This change is already in motion as more far-right leaders are taking power and growing more popular in public opinion across Europe. This growing popularity kicks off a trend where more traditional centrist parties are shifting further right and allying with far-right fringes. This is particularly clear in Macron’s Renaissance Party, which has slowly adopted more far-right policies, particularly on migration and security issues, shifting away from their traditional centrist politics further right.
Over the thirteen years that the Conservative Party have been in government, each new cabinet has adopted more extreme right-winged policies. The current cabinet under Rishi Sunak has introduced new extreme policies on immigration, net zero, and the war on woke. Sunak, along with Home Secretary Suella Braverman, have attempted to fight the ‘war on woke’ by attacking multiculturalism and minority groups such as LBGTQ+ and migrants. Braverman’s ‘Hurricane of Migrants’ and Sunak’s ‘A Man is a Man and a Woman is a Woman’ speeches given at the party conference in Manchester display populist markers common in far-right spheres.
The growing far-right within the Conservative Party is in part due to the events of Brexit and the successes of the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP). Creating a ‘Britain for Britons’ rhetoric with anti-Europe and xenophobic nationalistic sloganeering, Brexit promoted the idea of taking back control from European powers, an idea which was a central policy of UKIP in 2015-2016. In 2015, UKIP was becoming more and more popular, having secured 12% of the vote in the General Election. With their anti-European and anti-immigration stance, UKIP was successfully stealing Conservative voters. As a result, the Conservatives began adopting more extreme right-winged views to combat losing votes.
As the Conservatives drift further right in their politics, however, they risk losing dedicated voters. An Opinium poll for the Observer found that out of 900 people who voted Conservative in the 2019 election, 34% said they would vote for other parties at the next general election. Whether these voters are seeking to vote for the new right-winged Reform UK Party or more left-leaning parties such as Labour or the Liberal Democrats remains to be seen. However, the loss of confidence in the Conservatives highlights a potential pushback against the normalisation of extreme far-right policies.
Prior to the July 2023 snap elections, the Spanish Vox Party – led by Santiago Abascal doubled its regional and local vote. As a traditionally anti-immigration, anti-abortion, and ultra-nationalist far-right group, they became the third largest party in Spain. Striking up a coalition with Spain’s centre-right People’s Party (PP), Vox was quickly coming into the fold. Having won 15.1% of the votes in 2019, Vox was becoming a serious threat to the future of LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.
By the July 2023 snap elections, however, their upward trend was losing steam. Their regional votes dropped to 12.4%, despite gains in local elections, and their representation plummeted from 52 to 33 seats in the lower house. Vox remains the third-largest party in Spain, however, its losses relegates it to near-irrelevance. It remains to be seen whether Vox can regain strength in the coming months after the snap election.
The growth of the far-right continues to be an upwards trend in Europe, regardless of any losses in national elections. Outside of the aforementioned four countries, far-right politics is expanding and growing throughout Europe; with Finnish, German, and Austrian far-right parties gaining traction. With this expansion of ultra-nationalism, attacks on minority rights, and anti-immigration sentiments comes the risk of a descent into fascism. As it stand now, far-right politics has infiltrated Europe at a rapid speed. Ten or twenty years ago, the idea of a far-right party almost winning a national election was abhorrent, and now several European countries have far-right governments. It could be that these governments become increasingly fascist, particularly as more crises strike the continent. Or, will far-right politics prove too extreme for European citizens, and result in a continent-wide pushback?
- Considering the growing trend of far-right parties in Europe, does Vox’s losses demonstrate a potential pushback in far-right populism?
- Is the United Kingdom slowly becoming a fascist state?
- After crises, why do voting trends become more far-right instead of far-left?
- Sandrin, Paul. “The Rise of Right-Winged Populism in Europe: A Psychoanalytical Contribution”. Financial Crisis Management and Democracy, 2020.
- Camus Jean-Yves & Lebourg. “Far-Right Politics in Europe”. Harvard University Press, 2017.
- Kimberly A. Twist. “Partnering with Extremists: Coalitions between Mainstream and Far-Right Parties in Western Europe”. University of Michigan Press, 2019.