Monday

19th Aug 2019

Opinion

Europe's far-right - united in diversity?

  • Marine Le Pen. The far-right's rise at the national level is linked to its adoption of Islamophobia and anti-migration stances in lieu of outright extremism (Photo: Reuters)

Italy's Matteo Salvini is currently driving the unification of Europe's right-wing populists.

In the wake of the last European Parliament election in 2014, far-right populist parties split in three political groupings.

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  • Italy's Matteo Salvini, back in the day when he wanted to leave the euro (Photo: European Parliament)

The group called Europe of Nations and Freedom has contained Marine Le Pen's French National Rally, Salvini's League and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom.

This group is now meant to expand and develop into a 'European Alliance of Peoples and Nations'. Salvini managed to attract other far-right outlets such the Alternative for Germany, the Finns Party and the Danish People's Party.

Even if Europe's far-right will gain electoral support, they are not likely to win a majority.

The European People's Party, the centre-right group of the European Parliament, is projected to keep its relative majority, followed by the Socialists & Democrats.

Salvini has also not managed to fully unite Europe's far-right. Importantly, the Hungarian Fidesz party under prime minister Viktor Orban has not (yet) switched from the mainstream conservatives.

However, this affiliation stands on shaky grounds. Fidesz' disdain for judicial independence and the EU's fundamental principles has led to its temporary suspension from the conservative party family.

Orban continues to play the 'bad boy' and seeks to bring the centre-right group closer to the emerging populist alliance. The Hungarian prime minister withdrew his support for Manfred Weber, the conservative Spitzenkandidat, for the presidency of the European Commission.

He also invited the Italian minister of interior for a visit of Hungary's anti-migrant fence built at the border with Serbia.

Regardless of the outcome of the European elections, Europe's far-right is gaining ground in European politics. They have more and more access to the European Council and Council of the EU.

Far-right parties dominate or participate in governments in Austria (at least until this weekend's revelations and collapse of the government), Hungary, Poland and Italy.

They have enhanced opportunities to block EU laws seen to contribute to a more integrated Europe. The stalemated reform of the EU's Dublin system for asylum seekers has become an ample example.

The far-right's rise at the national level is linked to its adoption of Islamophobia and anti-migration stances in lieu of outright extremism. This shift may also provide a more stable basis for the renewed right-wing alliance.

The previous reunification efforts often broke over a too cosy relationship of some members with fascist groups or extremist ideology. They now manage to better conceal these extremist fringes by systematically drawing public attention to their anti-Muslim and anti-migration messages.

A fierce anti-migration agenda helps overcoming past disputes. Great controversy has long characterised the EU debate on how to help southern European states deal with their migratory pressures.

For years, different Italian governments have pledged for more solidarity from their EU partners.

This has come to an end with Salvini. He calls for a fortification of Italy's borders to curb migration. Publicly demonstrating his disregard for the EU-level, Salvini missed all but one justice and home affairs council, which discussed the EU's reform of asylum policy.

Diverging priorities?

Italy's approach has hence become compatible with Orban and other eastern European states staunchly opposing a mandatory relocation scheme for asylum seekers.

The 'nationalists' continue to often have very different 'national interests'.

Italy's League, for instance, seeks a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin's Russia considered by some eastern European populists still as a threat to their security.

Southern populists campaign against eurozone rules and austerity, whereas those requirements don't go far enough for their northern colleagues.

However, condensed in their anti-migration rhetoric, right-wing populists do not view these diverging national interests as stumbling blocks.

Rather, they seek to overcome them by shifting the focus of the public debate and downplaying the possibilities for common European problem-solving. This creates a vicious circle.

The EU gets incapable of finding compromises and policy solutions such as on how to help border countries with incoming migration.

The right-wing populists call for drastic solutions, notably a zero-migration policy. A hermetically-sealed Europe may prove impossible in practice. Yet, if a next 'migration crisis' eventually unfolds, right-wing populists will be the ones quickly shifting the blame on the EU.

These European elections only reflect a wider shift in European politics. Europe's far-right is getting more 'united in diversity'. This is also the motto of the EU.

Contrary to what the EU strives for, however, Europe's far-right does not seek to advance common solutions but to block the EU from within.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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