The global rise of the far right and its presence in Europe

Far-right parties have gained momentum to take power in several countries

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The global rise of the far right and its presence in Europe

Written by Laura Casamitjana

Over the last few decades, far-right parties have gained momentum and come to power in a number of countries. The recent elections in Argentina and the Netherlands are yet another symptom of the trend and political reality of right-wing extremist parties in Europe.

The economist Javier Milei has won the elections in Argentina by a wide margin, taking 56% of the vote against the left-wing candidate, Sergio Massa, who won 44%.

Argentina has been plunged for years into a spiral of non-stop inflation – reaching 140% year-on-year – and a 40% rate of people living on the poverty line in the first quarter of 2023 according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses of the Argentine Republic. With the general burnout that comes from living in these conditions on a systemic basis, the “ultra-liberal” candidate Javier Milei has offered a populist discourse that has had an effect on a jaded society. The next president was born as TV set fodder, a grotesque man close to the extreme right and whose solutions involve extreme privatisation: he has already announced the elimination of twelve ministries – including health, education and culture – leaving only eight – Economy, Justice, Interior, Human Capital (Employment + Education), Security, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure.

Milei represents the populist and grandiloquent radical right that has precedents such as Donald Trump in the United States. Political scientist Silvio Falcón, in an article for Catalunya Plural, explains that the new President-elect of Argentina “confesses to being an ally of VOX and Abascal in Spain, an admirer of Bolsonaro in Brazil and Kast in Chile […] Beyond his groundbreaking image and his inflammatory words, the global radical right has no doubts about it: Milei is their man in Argentina”.

Within days of each other, elections in the Netherlands broke forecasts: Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), won 35 of the 150 seats in the House of the Hague. Once again, the shadow of populist tycoon Donald Trump looms large, as Wilders is known as “the Dutch Trumpist“. The leader of the far-right in the Netherlands shares – in addition to a colourful hairstyle – ideas such as Islamophobia and a clear racist message, one of the great traits of the extreme right. An explosive character, in the very year that Trump won in the United States, 2016, Wilders faced a trial for incitement to hatred. In the middle of a rally, he asked his supporters whether they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands, to which the crowd responded “less, less, less”. Wilders added: “Let’s fix that”.

If Trump delivered his famous “make America great again”, the far-right is known for maintaining that discourse in their respective countries. For Wilders’ party, “our own country comes first”. He mentioned in his campaign that “the people must take back their nation”: closing mosques and even banning the Koran are among his proposals. “The survival of a free Holland depends on the extent to which we succeed in pushing back Islam”, his election manifesto reads.

Like Milei’s allies, other visible faces of the global far right were quick to congratulate the Dutch candidate: France’s Marine Le Pen, VOX’s Santiago Abascal and Hungary’s Viktor Orban were among the first to convey their congratulations. There is a clear trend in the last decade, even if the institutional presence of reactionary discourse is a response to a hype that has been brewing for years.

The new century arrived in Austria with the entry of the far right.

At the dawn of the 21st century in Austria, a coalition resulting from the 1999 elections opened the door to the extreme right. The FPO – an extreme right-wing party whose founder, Anton Reinthaller, was a former member of the SS – came in second place. Allied with the People’s Party (OVP), they seized power. It was one of the first signs of a reactionary upsurge after World War II. Years later, in 2017, Austria would reissue the coalition: this time the FPO was led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who had to leave the party and the government in 2019 because of a scandal in which it was revealed that he offered public contracts in exchange for political support. During the time of the last alliance between the OVP and the FPO, harsh legislation towards immigration was implemented. In the context of the migratory movements of 2015 and the large number of refugees arriving in Europe, the ultraconservatives promoted restrictions on the right to asylum, the facilitation of deportations by reinforcing border controls, or the application of discriminatory policies to allocate social benefits to Austrians to the detriment of immigrants.

Le Pen, the representative family of the French far right

It was 2002 when the National Front, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round of the presidential elections. At that time he became an inspiration for the extreme right in several countries, despite the fact that the mainstream parties on both the right and the left neutralised Le Pen by imposing a “cordon sanitaire” on him.

A decade later, in 2011, his daughter Marine Le Pen took the reins of the party. Some of its ideological strongholds have also been underpinned by racism: controlling immigration, fighting “Islamism” and reinforcing security have been some of the strong points of its latest electoral programme. These proposals were presented for the 2022 elections, where he obtained 41.5% of the vote compared to 58.5% for the liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron. Despite not winning the presidency, the far-right won a significant result in France.

Immigration and the LGBTI community, flanks of the discrimination materialised in Italy and Poland

While Le Pen and Macron were battling it out in the 2022 election contest that would end with the defeat of the National Front, in Italy the far-right parties Fratelli d’Italia and Lega per Salvini allied to form a government – together with the support of Forza Italia, led by the controversial Silvio Berlusconi -.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, is strongly opposed to NGO rescue boats in the Mediterranean. One of her most controversial manoeuvres was to prevent a rescue ship, the Humanity 1, from docking in Italian waters and disembarking migrants in distress. Although the courts ruled against him, Meloni thus demonstrated his strong anti-immigration stance. Another of his battles – which is also a nexus of extreme right-wing ideologies – is against the LGBTI community. Through the issuing of an instruction, the far-right leader prevented the filiation of children of homosexual couples.

Poland has been another country led by an LGBTIphobic extreme right. The Law and Justice party (PiS) won elections in 2015 and reelected in 2019. During their government, they encouraged almost a hundred municipalities to declare themselves “LGBTI-free zones”, and also implemented one of the most restrictive abortion policies in Europe. In the last elections, held in October 2023, the historic turnout and the youth and women’s vote meant that the far-right party did not win enough votes to form a government.

Viktor Orbán, the European benchmark for the far right

Hungary is a European example of a country led by the far right over a sustained period of time. Viktor Orbán, of the Fidesz party, is a point of reference for the continent’s far-right “sister parties”. Precisely in 2015, where hate speech against immigration was encouraged under the premise of the arrival of refugees in Europe, he stood out as one of the most radical: he built a barbed-wire fence on Hungary’s southern border.

Under the discourse seen in various parties of the same kind, he took the opportunity to spread xenophobia by, for example, reiterating that migrants “take jobs” away from Hungarians. Discrimination towards the LGBTI population has also been another of its key axes, going so far as to establish a law in 2021 that, under the guise of “combating paedophilia”, aimed to attack the LGBTI collective: it was prohibited to publish in spaces where minors had access to any content related to trans or homosexual representation, to talk to teachers about it in schools and even enacted that sex education could only be taught by organisations registered by the state.

The European Parliament’s concern about the far-right policies of the Hungarian government has been such that Brussels has gone so far as to label Hungary an “electoral autocracy”. This term defines an ostensibly democratic system that has deteriorated from an authoritarian model to an authoritarian one.

Immerse in power by supporting the traditional right wing

In Finland, the conservative party has taken power with the support of the far-right Finns Party. It holds 7 out of 19 ministries, gaining more institutional space than it has ever had before. “Finland was the only Nordic country with a lenient immigration policy. And this is finally going to change”, declared Riika Purra, leader of the far-right party. The case of Finland is paradigmatic of several EU countries, and is the configuration of the extreme right as a support for the traditional right.

In Spain, in 2019, the far-right VOX obtained an unprecedented result: 52 seats. Although it was not enough to win the Congress, VOX has been the necessary support for various mayoralties and even for the presidency of Autonomous Communities. One example is the Valencian Community, where Popular Party member Carlos Mazón won the presidency by making a pact with the extreme right. 

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The global rise of the far right and its presence in Europe

Written by Laura Casamitjana

Over the last few decades, far-right parties have gained momentum and come to power in a number of countries. The recent elections in Argentina and the Netherlands are yet another symptom of the trend and political reality of right-wing extremist parties in Europe.

Economist Javier Milei won the elections in Argentina by a large margin: he won 56% of the vote, beating the left-wing candidate, Sergio Massa, who got 44%. Argentina has been grappling with persistent inflation, reaching 140% year-on-year, and 40% of the population lives in poverty according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses of the Argentine Republic. Milei, seen as an “ultra-liberal”, has used a populist discourse that has resonated with a society exhausted by these conditions. His platform includes the elimination of twelve ministries, including health, education and culture, leaving only eight main areas.

Milei is associated with the radical populist right, comparable to figures such as Donald Trump in the United States. He has declared himself an ally of parties such as VOX in Spain, an admirer of Bolsonaro in Brazil and Kast in Chile. Experts consider him to be the man of the radical right in Argentina.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom (PVV) surprised by winning 35 out of 150 seats. Wilders, known as the ‘Dutch Trumpist’, shares Islamophobic ideals and racist messages characteristic of the far right. His party seeks to close mosques and ban the Koran, with a focus on taking back the Dutch nation.

Leaders of the global far right, such as Marine Le Pen, VOX’s Santiago Abascal and Viktor Orban, have congratulated Wilders. Although this trend has emerged in the last decade, it reflects a trend that has been years in the making.

The new century came to Austria with the entry of the far right

In Austria in the late 20th and early 21st century, the far right entered the scene through a coalition formed in the 1999 elections. The far-right FPO party, with a previous SS-linked founder, became the second political force. It joined with the People’s Party (OVP) to seize power, marking one of the first reactionary revivals after World War II.

In 2017, Austria repeated this coalition, led this time by Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPO. However, Strache had to leave the party and the government in 2019 due to a scandal where it was revealed that he offered government contracts in exchange for political support. During this alliance between the OVP and the FPO, strict laws related to immigration were implemented.

In response to migratory movements in 2015 and the massive arrival of refugees in Europe, the ultraconservatives promoted policies such as restricting the right to asylum, strengthening border controls and implementing policies that discriminated in the allocation of social benefits, favouring Austrian citizens over immigrants.

Le Pen, the family representative of the French far right

It was 2002 when the National Front, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round of the presidential elections. At that time he became an inspiration for the extreme right in several countries, despite the fact that the mainstream parties on both the right and the left neutralised Le Pen by imposing a “cordon sanitaire” on him.

A decade later, in 2011, his daughter Marine Le Pen took the reins of the party. Some of its ideological strongholds have also been underpinned by racism: controlling immigration, fighting “Islamism” and reinforcing security have been some of the strong points of its latest electoral programme. These proposals were presented for the 2022 elections, where he obtained 41.5% of the vote compared to 58.5% for the liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron. Despite not winning the presidency, the far-right won a significant result in France.

Immigration and the LGBTI community, flanks of discrimination materialised in Italy and Poland

During the 2022 election race in France, Le Pen and Macron faced each other, ending with the defeat of the National Front. Meanwhile, in Italy, the far-right parties Fratelli d’Italia and Lega per Salvini joined forces to form a government, with the backing of Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, has a strong stance against NGO rescue ships in the Mediterranean. One of her most controversial actions was to prevent the rescue ship Humanity 1 from docking in Italian waters and allowing emergency migrants to disembark. Despite opposition from the courts, Meloni showed his anti-immigration profile. He has also led a campaign against the LGBTI community, blocking the filiation of children of homosexual couples through an instruction.

In Poland, the far-right led Law and Justice (PiS) party won the elections in 2015 and remained in power in 2019. During their rule, almost 100 municipalities declared themselves “LGBTI-free zones”. In addition, they implemented one of the most restrictive abortion policies in Europe.

In the October 2023 elections, Poland’s historic turnout and the youth and women’s vote meant that the far-right party did not get enough votes to form a government.

Viktor Orbán, the European benchmark for the far-right

In Hungary, Viktor Orbán of the Fidesz party has led a far-right government for a long time. He is considered a model for other far-right parties in Europe. In 2015, when immigration was a hot topic due to the influx of refugees into Europe, Orbán took a radical stance: he built a barbed-wire fence on Hungary’s southern border.

Following the line of similar parties, he spread xenophobia by claiming that immigrants ‘steal’ jobs from Hungarians. It has also promoted discrimination against the LGBTI community. In 2021, he pushed through a law that, under the pretext of “combating paedophilia”, aimed to attack LGBTI people. This law prohibited the publication of any content related to trans or homosexual representation in places accessible to minors, limited discussion of these issues in schools and restricted sex education to state-approved organisations.

The European Parliament has expressed concern about the far-right policies of the Hungarian government. Brussels has labelled Hungary an “electoral autocracy”, a system that, despite appearing democratic, has eroded democratic health in favour of a more authoritarian model.

Immersing itself in power by supporting the traditional right

In Finland, the conservative party has taken power with the support of the far-right Finns Party. It holds 7 out of 19 ministries, gaining more institutional space than it has ever had before. “Finland was the only Nordic country with a lenient immigration policy. And this is finally going to change”, declared Riika Purra, leader of the far-right party. The case of Finland is paradigmatic of several EU countries, and is the configuration of the extreme right as a support for the traditional right.

In Spain, in 2019, the far-right VOX obtained an unprecedented result: 52 seats. Although it was not enough to win the Congress, VOX has been the necessary support for various mayoralties and even for the presidency of Autonomous Communities. An example is the Valencian Community, where Popular Party member Carlos Mazón won the presidency by making a pact with the extreme right.

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