Three questions about the rise of the far right in Europe

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Three questions about the rise of the extreme right in Europe

Gathering of supporters of Giorgia Meloni and other right-wing parties in Rome.

Italy has just broken a taboo. A far-right party, Fratelli d'Italia, came first in the legislative elections and will form the government, unheard of since the Second World War.

The resounding score of Giorgia Meloni's party, shortly after that of Jimmie Akesson's Democrats of Sweden, who came second in the elections, raises many questions.

First, there is a situational aspect. Due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, many Europeans are worried about their future. While the traditional parties struggle to offer solutions, the populists provide easy answers and find scapegoats (outsiders, the globalized elite).

The issue of migration is at the heart of their program. Italy is, along with Greece and Spain, one of the entry points for undocumented migrants on the European continent. Tens of thousands of people land there every year. An influx that Rome often has to manage alone, the European Union failing to agree on a common policy regarding the reception of migrants. Fratelli d'Italia, Ms. Meloni's party, wants to close Italy's borders to migrants.

This issue is also dear to the Democrats of Sweden, who are frontally opposed to immigration massive. The number of asylum seekers has exploded in the country since the war in Syria, which has unsettled many Swedes.

More broadly, the success of the far right can be explained by the disappearance of traditional left-right divides, which have frayed since the end of the cold war. The populists, on the other hand, put forward the issues of identity and national feeling, which allow them to distinguish themselves from other parties.

Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats (SD)

The populist leader presents himself as the one who knows the real problems of the people and who will offer simplistic solutions to very complicated questions, specifies Stéphane François, professor of political science at the University of Mons, in Belgium, specialist in the extreme right. He knows how to smell the air of the times and surf, so to speak, on bad instincts.

“Populists play on sensibilities and on feelings rather than on reason. »

— Stéphane François, professor of political science at the University of Mons, Belgium

Another element that explains their rise is the presence, in several countries, of very broad coalitions bringing together at disparate parties within the same government.

In Germany and Italy, we can clearly see the disastrous effects of a grand coalition government, notes Nicolas Hubé, professor of political communication at the University of Lorraine. Mr. Hubé, researcher in the French team of the DEMOS collective, which studies democracy and populism in Europe, recalls that the AFD (Alternative pour l'Germany, a party of extreme right) took off after three governments in which the right and the left governed together.

Some voters wonder why they should vote for Angela Merkel's CDU (Christian Democratic Union, center right) if, in the end, she governs with the SPD (Social Democratic Party, center left) and vice versa, observes Mr. Hubé .

It's a bit the same thing in Italy, where the President of the Council, Mario Draghi, governed with the support of parties such as the 5 Star Movement (left populist ) and the League (extreme right).

Mario Draghi, former Prime Minister of Italy.

How can the voter navigate this game?, Mr. Hubé wonders. These permanent coalitions give the idea that we are always cooking food. going to vote for a party that is going to ally with someone I don't want anyway? »

— Nicolas Hubé, professor of political communication at the University of Lorraine

[These alliances] result in public policies based on the lowest common denominator and more dissatisfaction on both sides of the political spectrum, believes Pascal Delwit for his part , professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels.

The result, according to Mr. Delwit, is a lack of interest among citizens in political life.

The presence of the far right in Europe is not new, but what is a bit more is its generalization. In almost all countries, it is increasingly present, notes Pascal Delwit. We have an undeniable breakthrough.

National Rally leader Marine Le Pen came second in the presidential election in France with 42% of the vote.

Italy, Sweden, France, Belgium, Austria, Spain… the examples are multiplying. Countries where the radical right is not present are almost an exception.

“We are clearly in a sequence of progression of the radical right in several states.

— Pascal Delwit, professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels

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In the Italian case, several factors came into play, such as the division of the center left vote, which favored the right, but also abstention.

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Turnout is down everywhere, not just in Italy.

Generally speaking, there is a tendency for abstention to rise, which can sometimes be very impressive, notes Mr. Delwit. From the 1980s to today, we have lost about 20 points in average participation in national elections, and if we look at sub-national elections or European elections, it is still much more.

This is explained, according to him, by a certain distancing from politics and the idea that voting does not change anything. For young people, this is particularly striking. Electoral participation is no longer self-evident and, not only is it no longer self-evident, but it is dying out, notes Pascal Delwit.

“For a whole generation, electoral democracy is something that has no evidence. »

— Pascal Delwit, professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels

When one in four voters, as in Italy, is seduced by the proposals of the far right, the traditional political class should perhaps question themselves. However, this questioning is slow to come.

We are not out of the brambles, summarizes Stéphane François. Reconnecting with the electorate involves educational work that has not been done for a very, very, very long time.

The extreme right worries because, most of the time, its leaders reject representative democracy and its institutions, in addition to opposing individual rights and freedoms.

< p class="sc-v64krj-0 knjbxw">Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, is accused by Brussels of multiple breaches of the rule of law.

However, politicians who make far-right speeches during the election campaign often tend to refocus when they are in government.

Exercise of power is a game-changer, since it often shows their limits, believes Nicolas Hubé. If we take the Italian case, Matteo Salvini [head of the League] exploded in flight. Between the 34% that the League had in previous elections and the score of 8% that it did this time, this shows that the passage through the exercise of power can also very largely use these go there.

“It's one thing to protest, to grind, etc.; it is another to show that we are a government party. »

— Nicolas Hubé, professor of political communication at the University of Lorraine

For Stéphane François, the risk is still great if far-right parties gain access to the power in Western Europe. We saw it with Trump. In four years, the damage has been phenomenal, particularly in terms of geopolitics and international relations, he underlines.

“There is a real risk of unraveling democratic values. I am not talking about a dictatorship, but about an illiberal regime that will gradually erase these values. »

— Stéphane François, professor of political science at the University of Mons, Belgium

The cases of Hungary and Poland, two states where ultra-conservative governments are in power, are hardly reassuring.

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