Monday, May 29, 2023
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Jaime Ensignia

​The ghost of nationalism hovers over 21st century Europe

Sociologist, Ph.D in Social and Economic Sciences from the Free University of Berlin


In 1848, when Marx and Engels wrote their book "The Communist Manifesto", an unprecedented sensation settled on the old continent, as it was said; "A ghost hovers over Europe: the ghost of Communism". At the same time, they pointed out; all the forces of old Europe have united in holy crusade to harass this ghost. Today, 170 years later, a new ghost besieges Europe: the ghost of ultra nationalism, of populist and xenophobic movements. This phantom is not new in the old continent, in the 20s and 30s, the nationalist, fascist, national-socialist and patriotic movements abounded in the most diverse European countries. The disagreement between the political forces of the European Left and the liberal Centre have become pathetic in some cases. Communists reprimanded social democrats as social-fascists or, social democrats pointed fingers at the communist parties of the III International as the main enemy, fighting in the great European cities, allowed fascism and national-socialism to seize the main European countries. The outcome of this historical era is well-known: the brutal and bloody The Second World War, the persecution and extermination of Jews and more than 50 million deaths in this war.



Since 2016, several political events have been worrying and have shaken the old continent over and over again. Everything began with the departure of Great Britain from the European Union (EU), on June 24 of that year. The triumph of Brexit in the referendum totally surprised European and world public opinion. On December 4th of that year, the Italians were called to give their support or rejection to the plebiscite convened by their government, which was intended to reform the Constitution. The once new face of Italian and European socialism, Matteo Renzi, had to resign as a result of their defeat and it was the populist and ultranationalist political forces that are victorious in this election. Austria, one of the most stable countries in the continent, had to hold elections for the second time to elect the president. Norbert Hofer, a leading figure of the Far Right-wing populist party, Libertad, put the leader of the Austrian Green Party, Alexander Van der Bellen, in serious trouble. Finally, Van der Bellen imposed themselves -on the same day of the Italian referendum- on December 4th in these presidential elections, an extremely significant triumph for the progressive political forces and the European Left.

By the end of 2016, other EU countries, particularly Germany, were receiving a huge wave of migrants fleeing the effects of the wars in the Middle East in Syria and also because of demographic pressure in African countries. On the other hand, countries such as France, Belgium, Germany and Turkey suffered threats and acts of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, which inflamed the anti-migration, nationalist and xenophobic fires existing in the vast majority of European nations. This "privileged" political scenario, and what would come in the following years has favoured the continent's Far Right in a singular way. They gain significant political, social and ideological ground, raising the banners of chauvinism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism. 

In this way, the anti-EU and anti-globalisation nationalist movements became electoral alternatives in Italy, Austria, Holland, France, and Germany in the elections that took place during 2017 and the beginning of 2018.

In this scenario, we need to add that USA, We were surprised at the presidential victory of late 2016 -not foreseen by any public opinion poll or by sharp political analysts- of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Undoubtedly, this Trump's triumph led to a strengthening of the ultranationalist proposals of European political parties and movements.


This European nationalist boom had a point of continental political articulation in the meeting at the end of January 2017. The leaders of the anti-immigration, eurosceptic parties, such as Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) of France, the Dutch Trump, Geert Wilders, the representative of the Northern League of Italy, Matteo Salvini and Frauke Petry of Alternative for Germany (AfD), among other leaders and political groups, met in Koblenz, Germany, to project their policies, their electoral challenges, and their actions under the slogan "Freedom for Europe". In the opinion of analysts, this meeting could be interpreted as the beginning of the organization of an International of the Nationalist Ultra-Right. Next, we observe how this boom of the ultranationalist movements and parties in the central countries of the EU crystallized during the course of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018.

The Netherlands. The political forces gathered in Koblenz expected a new triumph in the elections in the Netherlands, with G. Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV). However, this representative of the ultra-nationalism of the Netherlands achieved only a discreet 13% of the vote, falling below the re-elected prime minister, Mark Rutte, representative of the Liberal Party (UVD). The results of the elections in the Netherlands represented a serious setback for the Far Right there and the eurosceptic ultra-nationalists, and were being observed internationally as a reference of what could happen electorally with the nationalist parties of France and Germany.

France. On Sunday, April 23rd 2017, the first presidential round took place. There were four candidates, defined by their citizen sympathies: Marine Le Pen, of the ultranationalist "National Front"; Emmanuel Macron with their movement "On the move", the liberal centre; Francois Fillon, republican conservative and Jean Luc Mélenchon, who in 2016 founded their movement "Unbowed France" and which has the support of the French Communist Party. The results of the elections were the following: E. Macron obtained 24.01%; M. Le Pen, 21.30%; F. Fillon achieved 20.01% and J. L. Mélenchon, 19.58%.

Of these four candidates, two are those went through to the second round on May 7th, E. Macron and M. Le Pen. On May 7th 2017, the ballot between these two candidates was held. The second round took place against a backdrop of a strong confrontation between Macron and Le Pen, whose most intense milestone was in the only televised presidential debate between the two, in which the candidates were not spared disqualifying epithets. The results of the presidential election yielded the following results: Macron with 66.10%, Le Pen with 33.90%, an abstention of 25.44% and an electoral participation of 74.62%. The results gave the definitive triumph to the candidate Macron, who surpassed his competitor in by than 30% of the votes. 

This electoral outcome gave the international community and the main leaders of the EU great respite.

Beyond the defeat that the FN has suffered both in the second presidential round and in the legislative elections, what remained in the public opinion retina was that there had been a political and social shift -which we now have to take into account- towards the ultranationalist Right within French society. We need to finely analyze the electorate that voted for Le Pen: 34% (more than 10 million voters in the ballot) and 14% in recent legislative elections. This vote will be interpreted as one of the emblematic advances of European ultranationalist populism.

Austria. In early parliamentary elections on Sunday October 15th, Austria took a not-unexpected turn to the right. The Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), led by the 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz won the election, getting 31.6% of the votes, the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) stood at 26.9% and once again something new: the eruption of the ultranationalist party with a national socialist (Nazi) past, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a party that achieved 26.0% of the vote. The peculiar thing about these electoral results was the make-up of government between conservatives of the party ÖVP and the ultranationalist party FPÖ, the latter took up the ministries of External Relations, Interior and Defence.

As in other European elections in recent years, the Austrian Social Democracy suffered a severe defeat, which is part highlights the widespread European Social-Democratic decline.

Czech Republic. On Sunday October 22nd, the ultranationalist wave in Europe once again triumphed in the Czech Republic with billionaire Adrej Babis of the "Alliance of Discontented Public" (ANO). The Babis party got 29.7% of the vote and the Social Democracy party (CSSD) that had been in government suffered a significant setback. From being first in the elections of 2013 with 18% of the votes, in this election they came in fifth place, with a meagre 9% of the vote.

Germany. After the triumph of the CDU-CSU, in the general elections of September 24th, Chancellor Merkel's parties did not attain an absolute majority to be able to form a government. At first, Merkel started to engage negotiations with the Party of the Greens and the Liberal Party (FDP) with the objective of forming a government. This first attempt of the Chancellor failed due to the strong objections from the Greens, from the Liberals and from the Christian Social Union, closely allied to the Christian Democratic Union. A second attempt to rehash the Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats was successful and Chancellor Merkel got the green light for the formation of her long-awaited fourth term in government.

Nevertheless, the most unusual thing about the general elections was the historic and unexpected victory of the ultranationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party at the polls. The results put the AfD in third place as a political force in the German parliament, managing to get 92 members of parliament elected with 12.6% of the votes. Since 1960, there were no ultra-nationalist parliamentarians or have such a powerful faction in this nation's parliament. It is interesting to note that the AfD received a significant number of votes from the traditional German political parties. The electoral result of AfD is explained in part by the following transfer of votes: it gained 980,000 votes from the CDU-CSU; 470,000 from the SPD; 400,000 from the Left Party, and smaller percentages from The Greens and FDP.

But not all that glisters is gold. The AfD, immediately after these successful results suffered a split. Frauke Petry, one of the most significant figures in the AfD, broke away from his former party and gave inception to a new ultraconservative party called the Blue Party. This party is projected as a political reference destined to capture conservative German votes and is the moderate wing of the Far Right of this country. From the general elections from last September to the present time, the AfD has risen as regards intention to vote according to different opinion polls, even surpassing the Social Democrats, rising from 12.6% to 16%. 

The German Far Right has been favoured by these five and a half months' waiting time to form a government by the great and historic German parties. 

They have been able to transmit optimally the ineffectiveness and ineffectiveness of the current system of traditional political parties to the public opinion, particularly at this political conjuncture of forming a government, beyond the agitation of the issues "caused" by massive immigration.

Italy. In the general elections that were held in Italy (Sunday, March 4th), the conservative and right-wing sectors gained a significant political-electoral and social ground and the centre-left, disunited in these elections, has suffered a serious and profound electoral setback The central themes of the Italian electoral campaign were two issues: immigration and xenophobia of significant sectors of Italian society against foreigners on Italian soil whether or not were official residents. By the way, other issues such as the state of the integration of Italy in the European Union, the EU economic policies, to name a few, were also topics of political debate. 

This has been a victory for the anti-system, the anti-European, populist and xenophobic parties, which are ready to compete with the objective of forming a government. 

The electoral results were the following:

The Right Centre attains 37%, and with 17,4%, the Northern League party led by Matteo Salvini, representative of the Far Right, anti-EU and anti-immigrant policies, displaced the Forza Italia Party of Silvio Berlusconi, which got 14%.

The 5 Star Movement, a populist anti-system movement founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo and today directed by Luigi Di Maio was the party that achieves the greatest support, with 32.7%.

The Centre Left plunged to its worst vote of the last 10 years with 22.8%, where Matteo Renzi's social democratic party, the Democratic Party (PD), attained 18.7% of the vote. Renzi, the emergent figure of the Italian Socialists in the previous years, resigned to the leadership of the party. 

With these results, forming a government will be a difficult and complex process, since neither of the two majorities, the centre-right and the 5% Stars Movement, failed to surpass the 40% threshold that marks the new electoral law to be able to form a government. Some Italian analysts talk about a scenario of political instability due to the difficulty of achieving a solid political alliance that can govern Italy.


It is an event of political realism that we are experiencing an unprecedented boom of ultranationalism and anti-system movements. This, not only in the main countries of Western Europe (Italy, Austria, France, Holland, Germany, to name a few), but also observable in the Eastern European nations, which were once part of the so-called "real socialism". In countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, to name just a few, the nationalist, patriotic, xenophobic and anti-system wave is being strongly felt.

The European Union, precisely in the context of the recent commemoration of 60 years of community integration (2017), is called to unite in a "holy crusade" to prevent history from repeating itself, as predicted by the old Marx

The progressive, social-democratic, social-Christian, social-liberal, republican and democratic forces of all colours have an inescapable political commitment to deal with this siege being endured by European democracy because of this populist nationalist boom.

Not least in the near future debate, is that in all these elections have highlighted the need to hold a different view of the communitary process in the EU, as well as the type of globalisation it is part of. In the absence of a qualitative political change in these areas, Eurosceptics, anti-globalisation, nationalists of all kinds, will gain enormous political ground in Europe in the future.

Finally, if we had to make a synthesis of what we have analyzed, it might be summarized as follows: we have suffered a civilizatory involution in Europe that is beginning to endanger democracy in the old continent.



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