Politics & Media
Jun 21, 2024, 06:27AM

Europe's “Far Right” Parties Gain Respectability

Its new leaders are skilled at putting a friendlier face on their agenda.

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In the run-up to the European Parliament elections that took place between June 6 and 9, a handful of issues were at the forefront; in particular there were the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, climate change, and immigration. The so-called far-right parties were expected to make a surge, as there's no clear cut-plan to end the Ukraine war, controlling fossil fuel usage is expensive for the consumer, and many Europeans are feeling the burdens of immigration on a daily basis.

The results are in. The center held, and the left (“far left”?) lost. The “far right” was a big winner, prompting the usual uproar over a potential return to fascism. Is that a reasonable concern? Perhaps it once was, but Europe’s “far right” parties have rounded off their more jagged edges for years while taking positions that expand their appeal to beyond the nativist voters they've traditionally targeted—a group rooted in the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Right now, the far right isn't looking so far to the right to the many “center-right” European voters  who aren’t happy with what they consider extremist policies on mass immigration, the economy, energy and national sovereignty.

“Far right” is a relative term in that its definition depends on who’s doing the commenting. The use of “far,” as attached to both the left and the right, is a pejorative designation often used as a political weapon. It's to be avoided when speaking of one’s own party, and used liberally when referring to the opposition. A Google search of “New York Times far right” produces headline after headline containing “far right,” while a search substituting “far left” produces a mere single headline. The Times just substitutes “left” for “far left,” and its readers are fine with that because they tend not to consider any progressive policy positions as extremist.

In an entire New York Times article devoted to the often violent “antifa” movement, which calls for the end of capitalism and the dismantling of police forces, “far left” wasn’t mentioned once. The media as a whole, in covering European and American politics, uses the term “far-left” much less than “far right.” Conservatives, understanding that the media’s composed mostly of liberals, understand the reason for this discrepancy. Liberals, on the other hand, probably barely notice it.

Europe’s far right is finding ways to rebrand itself as being much closer to the “center-right” than what former French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front party represented in back in 2002 when he made it to the second round of his nation's presidential election. Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s excelling at this repositioning effort despite the media frenzy surrounding her election in 2020, with news outfits such as NPR, BBC, ABC News, The Guardian, NBC News, and CNN referring to her and her party as “far right.” It was as if Attila the Hun had just moved into the Chigi Palace, but that's not how it turned out. Meloni’s strong performance as host of the recent G-7 summit showed that she's become a major power broker in Europe, as well the head of a stable Italian government, which wasn’t the case before Melonic took office. 

Meloni's successful way of governing, blending right-wing culture war stances with mainstream foreign and economic policies, straddling the nativist voters and pro-business conservative voters, provides a roadmap for how European “far right” parties can continue to move towards the center, gaining power. One key moderating move Meloni made was to cut against the far-right grain in not supporting Putin while calling for aid to Ukraine.

The far right has always been vulnerable to allegations of racism and anti-Semitism, a point echoed by Humza Yousef, the failed former first minister of Scotland who once tweeted, “Far right populism is driven by hatred of Muslims.” This argument mirrors the voices of the many American progressives who say similar things about those pushing back against the kind of mass, uncontrolled immigration this nation’s now experiencing. But fewer and fewer Europeans are convinced by such unnuanced rhetoric in light of Europe's general inability to successfully integrate their many Muslim immigrants into their societies.

Mass immigration is a separate issue from immigration in general; opposing the former, which presents a high risk of destabilization, does not make one an immigration-hating, Stephen Miller-type racist.

While Meloni and her party tallied impressive results, the recent elections announced the arrival of a new right-wing political star. Marine Le Pen’s handpicked protege to lead her National Rally Party, Jordan Bardella, stunned the nation—and the world—by humiliating Emmanuel Macron, pulling in twice as many votes as the French president’s centrist party. Bardella, a slick, TikTok-savvy politician, could become the next French prime minister if Macron loses his gamble in calling the upcoming snap election, which Bardella baited him into doing.

Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, doubled its representation in the European Parliament, and the far-right Alternative for Germany party surged past Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats. It was a very bad election for the left, which has looked increasingly out of touch. At this rate, it may not be long before the European far right is referred to simply as the “right.”


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