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Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera

​The rise of the Far Right in Europe

Professor of Political Science at the University of Barcelona

Politics in polyarchies today seems to pivot around two major trends: on one hand, the establishment Political Parties, and on the other, the anti-system, the former of centrist convergence and the more radical ones in their different ideological expressions. Beyond this first approach, we can interpret this duality in other terms: conventional parties integrated in the current model that they do not see an alternative to, and others directly opposed to it. The problem for the former is that their room for manoeuvre has been reduced to a minimum, given they seem to have been kidnapped by technocracy, while the latter embody the different variants of populism that apparently provide answers.


The poor community management of the great economic crisis that erupted in 2008, which left serious social consequences behind it, is the main factor that has encouraged protest movements in several European countries. In general, the radical Left has not had a strong advocacy capacity and the disappointment at the resignation of the Syriza Greek government led by Alexis Tsipras- who eventually had to bend to the dictates of the "troika"- has limited expectations in this area in other countries. Accordingly, the singularity of the present is that most of the establishment's critical movements are led by the Far Right, which is realising how to manipulate different rejections and discontents in its favour, although its surge is uneven depending on the country.

The radical right has focused its objectives of discontent on three issues that usually pay electoral dividends: anti-immigrant xenophobia, nationalist, protectionist and anti-European Union (EU) retrenchment and the frontal rejection of the conventional "political class" accused of parasitism and corruption. The ultras grow for both subjective reasons (leadership capacity to recruit the discontented against the proactive exhaustion of the establishment) and objective reasons (the poorly resolved 2008crisis, the poor functioning of democratic institutions). The ultras discourse (which seems "new" despite its archaic background) works: it exploits fears, groups together rejections, revives old hatreds and promises easy ways out. Accordingly, xenophobia and chauvinism have reinvigorated the myth that the solution seems to be to return to "pure" and "sovereign" nations.


The slow and partial rectification of the orthodox policies of economic austerity and strict control of the public deficit are limiting the traditional parties, and this gives the Far Right parties wings. 

Meanwhile, the establishment parties are so much like each other and are unable to offer alternatives to what is available, the ground will be fertile for the development of the frontal response. 

Accordingly, all of this is a sure sign that Germany -the leading European economic power- maintains the policy of grand coalition governments, something that continuously deteriorates the two major national parties, because if this trend becomes the norm, they will keep going down irreversibly.

The great coalitions dilute the alternations and prevent different policies from being tried, something optimal for the ultras because they can argue that the conventional parties are all the same. If it is only possible to carry out a single type of economic policy, the establishment parties' continual wear and tear will further decrease their strength, given that it is clear that such recipes, although we are now beginning to get over the crisis, continue to aggravate social and territorial inequalities.

The Far Right reinforces identity myths (the ethnic nation) and provides unviable magical recipes (leave the EU, expel immigrants). 

This is to say, the ultras are quite skilled in denouncing, but their proposals are absolutely demagogic and, if applied, would have dire consequences for European countries and for extra-community immigrants. The ultras point to easy culprits (immigrants, Brussels, globalisation) and propose front-line expeditious formulas (close borders, liquidate the EU, return to protectionism). More particularly, they exploit Islamophobia: Muslims would be impenetrable, their cultural horizon would be incompatible with European values, they would be a burden on the welfare state and would increase crime and terrorism. 

The other major argument focuses on denouncing globalisation and Europeanism, two sides of the same coin from their point of view: hence the retreat into protectionist and the frontal rejection of Brussels. 

The EU is seen as an elitist, technocratic, denationalizing and anti-popular artefact. Therefore, the ultras demand to abandon or even better to dismantle the EU to "recover" the mythical "national sovereignty", reserve the welfare state to "our own" and end a privileged oligarchic "political class".


It has reached the point where the old academic distinction between neo-fascists and the radical populist New Right has ceased to function: this duality was useful to explain the distinct origins of specific parties of that ilk, but today they are almost all amalgamated, given the coincidence in their three indicated objectives. For example, it is quite significant that the Euro-group in the European Parliament comprises both the French Front National -clearly of neo-fascist origin- and the Italian Lega Nord -an obvious example of a new populist radical right-. 

Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini share the same diagnosis and propose quite similar exclusionary formulas.

In view of all of this, on one hand, it makes no sense to make concessions to the discourse and recipes of the ultras from the traditional parties: neither less Europe nor severely restrict immigration are the answers. On the other hand, the establishment parties have to lose their fear of presenting different proposals, to confront different formulas to deal with the economic crisis, correct social inequalities and improve the quality of democracy. Partially legitimizing the Far Right discourse is doubly suicidal: it will reinforce its arguments and will not electorally benefit the establishment parties.

In addition, the EU has a quite serious problem in its eastern area where, after successful transitions, a worrying nationalist and populist involution of a reactionary nature is taking place. Governments like the one in Hungary (Víktor Orbán) and Poland (in fact, controlled by Jaroslaw Kaczyński) are giving way to illiberal regimes before which they are (still) dealing with with little force. The weak pluralist culture in these countries has contributed to the fact that in them the Far Right has gained a great strength that endangers not only their democratic quality, but also affects the entire European integration project.

In conclusion, to deal with the Far Right, we need to advance European federalization, correct the democratic deficit in the community, regulate the financial markets much more, recover the deteriorated social model and correct the large income differences between European countries, without forgetting something crucial: foster a united pan-European civic spirit.



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