The Rise of the Far-Right in Europe

Mayar Stitan - Mar. 28, 2024 - 5 min read - #Politics

Across Western Europe, far-right parties are rapidly advancing: climbing up the polls, shaping policies, occupying ministerial roles and gaining a mainstream platform for their views. This can be seen in lots of these European countries- e.g. PM Giorgia Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’ party having neo-fascist roots, Spain’s far-right ‘Vox’ party doubling its regional and local vote, key far-right ministers in Finland's coalition government etc. But what is the cause behind this worrying rise?

The causes

For long, opposition to immigration, Islam and the EU were what united Europe’s far-right parties. New causes have now also emerged: the culture wars, minority rights and the climate crisis to name a few. Director of ‘Institut Montaigne’s Europe Programme’ said that the far-right renaissance in Europe is largely down to dissatisfaction with the political mainstream, and that many of the electorate are attracted by the bold and outspoken nature of parties on the far-right. There are three main issues that new right-wing voters are frustrated with:

Defining Europe’s populist right

Populist: relating to a characteristic or a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.

"The rise of new parties on the right in the 1980s led to a great deal of controversy over how these parties are defined. Some authors argue that these parties share essential characteristics, while others point to the unique national features and circumstances of each party. Some see them as throwbacks to the fascist era, while others see them as mixing right-wing, liberal, and populist platforms to broaden their electoral appeal. The party ideologues themselves have argued that they cannot be placed on the left-to-right spectrum."

— Terri E. Givens, 2005

Even though the many right-wing parties scattered across Europe like to argue about how they’re different and unique, Givens stated that there were two characteristics shared by these radical right groups:

The contemporary radical right doesn’t want to return to pre-democratic regimes such as monarchy or feudalism. It wants government by the people, but in terms of ethnocracy instead of democracy. Even though the right-wing argues that this is just what nationalism is in practice, this could be argued to be undemocratic and xenophobic since it strips away ethnic minorities from their right to vote and be represented in politics. In the UK, ethnic minorities make up about 20% of the population, which is an extremely significant number. 

Demographics of right-wing voters

Economic inequality is widening the gap between the winners and losers of globalisation. The winners live in urban areas, have stable jobs and access to modern communications and transport, however live in fear that their lifestyle will deteriorate to become similar to the losers of globalisation. The latter are constantly threatened by unemployment or stuck in poorly paid jobs- they belong to the working class or lower middle class and also live in fear of further social decline. These people live in de-industrialised, rural, or suburban areas on the periphery of globalised key city players to which they feel denied access. It can be argued that the neoliberalism of the late 20th century has led to European social and economic insecurity in the working and middle classes, leading to the growth of right-wing populism. 

In conclusion, the next coming years might see the dominance of the far-right across Western Europe, which could be seen as having extreme global impacts, however that view comes under one of Eurocentrism, disregarding the politics of the wider world. The rise of the far-right in Europe represents a complex phenomenon rooted in socio-economic, cultural, and political factors. From economic insecurities to cultural anxieties, various forces have fueled the resurgence of far-right ideologies across the continent. Moreover, the failure of mainstream political parties to effectively address the concerns of marginalised communities has created fertile ground for far-right movements to gain traction. However, while the far-right has managed to garner support and influence, it is essential to recognize the inherent dangers posed by their divisive rhetoric and discriminatory policies. History has shown that extremism often leads to societal fragmentation, violence, and erosion of democratic values. We have already seen the extreme restrictions placed on illegal immigrants, leading to increased deaths every year while refugees battle across harsh land and sea. Thus, combating the rise of the far-right requires action such as strengthening democratic institutions, promoting intercultural dialogue, and adopting inclusive policies that address the worries of all citizens. Only through collective action and a commitment to tolerance and solidarity can Europe overcome the challenges posed by the far-right and reaffirm its commitment to democracy, human rights, and pluralism.