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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Inquiétants progrès de l’extrême droite

by Paul Falzon

Worrying Avances by the Far Right

Translated Sunday 22 October 2006, by Hervé Fuyet

The steady growth of far-right parties in recent years can be attributed to their exploitation of competition between territories and people. Analysis.

Following the recent advance of the Vlaams Belang party in Flanders but also, unexpectedly, that of the Front national in Wallonia, the Far Right is confirming its long-term electoral presence in a growing number of European countries. Extremely small and marginalized just twenty-five years ago, the parties of this political grouping have become major forces in several States in recent years, to the extent of occasionally becoming part of a government.

This year, Poland and Slovakia have governments which include the Far Right, joining a list which, since 2000, has comprised Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy (1) and, outside the European Union, Switzerland.

An furher sign that the phenomenon is becoming commonplace, the presence of the Extreme Right in a government no longer causes disapproval on the part of other European countries, contrary to what happened in the spring of 2000, following the alliance of the Austrian conservatives with the FPÖ party of Jörg Haider. At the time, Vienna was put “in quarantine” by its partners in the EU, and Jacques Chirac refused to be photographed next to Wolfgang Schüssel.

This year, the entry of the Far Right into the Warsaw government was met in the EU with a deafening silence, with the notable exception of the European Parliament. Although very different - what do the “social populism” of Samoobrona (Poland) and the ultra-liberalism of the Swiss UDC have in common? - The European far right has however "a minimum common program", according to the political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the subject. Added to the traditional mistrust of “the Establishment” has been the rejection of immigrants and, more particularly in recent years, that of Moslems.

But the Far Right thrives particularly on social problems. In the 1980s and 90s, its emergence coincided with the inceasing weakening of social welfare systems, the growth of mass unemployment and the competition between territories and between people suffering from the effects of globalization and the construction of the European project. Since the beginning of this decade, the inability of governments to deal with this social crisis has taken its toll, especially when thirteen of the fifteen EU Member States were controlled by the Centre-Left. Eventually, the Far Right imposed itself “as the main opposition to the ideological consensus imposed by the ultraliberal social model” as summarized by Jean-Yves Camus.

The most spectacular cases are in Eastern Europe, where both Right and Left have implemented similar policies to open up markets and break the solidarity since the fall of the Wall, and under the leadership of the EU. For instance, social issues, such as safeguarding the health system or controling foreign capital, are the reasons that the Conservatives and the Far rRght won in Poland and the Left found a basis of agreement with the nationalists in Slovakia. In Germany, the destruction of unemployment benefits by Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats succeeded in alienating voters on the Left: in the East of Germany, the most underprivileged classes are voting increasingly for the neo-Nazi NPD, a party present in the regional government in the last few years after being banished since the Second World War. This feeling that the Right and the Left follow the same policies is accentuated in the countries where the two sides govern together: Austria was led by a coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats before the 2000 elections, and Belgium by a "purple" alliance between Liberals and Socialists. The consensus between the Right and the Left on the constitutional treaty also fed the mistrust of the disadvantaged classes on whether the Left had the capacity to break with right-wing, neo-liberal logic.

Nationalism of withdrawal

Supported by those in the electorate who are victims of globalization and the policies of the EU, the Far rRght has the support of another section of the electorate which claims it wants to follow the competition between populations and between territories to its logical conclusion. The Belgian sociologist Marc Jaquemain (2) of the University of Liège concludes that the Far Right has gained its best results in areas where the economic situation is much better than the national or European average (Northern Italy, Flanders, Austria, Switzerland). The researcher points out the emergence of a “nationalism of withdrawal”: in a globalized world where the role of the State in redistributing wealth is diminishing, an electorate is emerging which is “rather middle-class and cultivated” and “protected from the phenomena of violence”, and which does not want to pay any more for the poorest people or areas. This is the case for the Vlaams Belang in Wallonia or the Northern League in the Mezzogiorno in Italy. For Marc Jaquemain, “Xenophobic nationalism is not only the consequence of the break-up of solidarity: it is also (...) the manifestation of the project of those among the affluent middle class that want to get rid of that solidarity”. A political objective that fits in well with anti-immigration rhetoric, and makes it possible to engage with the underprivileged electorate. There is also the responsibility of the traditional political parties in using the arguments of the far right to try to win over its electorate. For this reason, the elections in Austria revealed a willingness to instrumentalize topics which had up to that point been the reserve of the FPÖ – the total rejection of immigrants, and the rejection of Islam - by the conservative right-wing but also, to a lesser extent, by the Social Democrats.

Attraction of populism

The inroads of the ideas of the Far Right into traditional parties is also striking in Switzerland, in Belgium where the Flemish parties tried to go one better than the Vlaams Blok on the issue of identity, on the pretext of stopping its progression, or in the Netherlands, where the Right considerably hardened the laws on asylum. In its report for 2005, the European Observatory on racist and xenophobic phenomena (3), an official agency of the EU, stressed that “certain Member States introduced messages in their recent legislation suggesting that new immigrants are not welcome, for reasons more to do with politics than economics”. For the Observatory, any official government discourse that stigmatizes immigrants is complicit in the rise of racism. One could add that, until now, voters have always preferred, as Jean-Marie Le Pen likes to repeat, “the original to the copy”: the recent failure of Wolfgang Schüssel proved it again. From this, we should assume that immigration and security, favourite issues for the far right, are likely once again to feature in the French electoral debate.

(1) The Northern League participated in the Berlusconi government from 2001 to April 2006.
(2) Read its contribution on the site www.extremedroite.be.
(3) See info on his site: eumc.europa.eu.

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