Old Europe, new parties: the growing opposition to the EU


May 14, 2016 – 

Mateusz Piskorski, Izvestiya – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski 

“Everything is mixed up in Old Europe”

The growing popularity and significance of right parties in Europe is undoubtedly connected with the latest immigration wave. Even those countries which have not yet been faced with the problem of migration from the Middle East and North Africa, especially the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, are being taken back by certain fears that the wave of migrants might reach them soon enough.

Amidst these fears, support for certain far right political parties is growing. Today, however, calling these parties “right-wing” is a stretch. In fact, these parties have undergone a certain transformation.

Earlier, the far right in Europe was associated with definitively anti-Communist and anti-socialist movements, and even with the defense of the free market, market reforms, and protests against taxation and social policies. Now, however, everything is a bit different. 

As is known, such parties as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France or Gabor Von’s Jobbik in Hungary, are parties of a nationalist bent. They emphasize that they are against immigration and claim to be Eurosceptics. As a matter of course, they harshly criticize the European Union and the European bureaucracy. 

However, if we consider Jobbik in particular, we see that they have quite a left program in terms of socio-economic policies. They speak out in support of fairly active state-backed social policies. Categorizing them as far-right in the classical understanding is thus difficult. Bearing this in mind, I think that it would be more correct to call these parties “nationalist” rather than “far-right.” 

Without a doubt, their support is growing in connection with migration and due to the lack of confidence in the European Union’s institutions, but also in connection with certain shortcomings in the socio-economic policies of the countries in which these parties exist.

Yet another interesting factor is apparent if we examine research related to studies of the electoral base of these parties. It turns out that the majority of the current electorate of the Front National in France is made up former supporters of the Communist Party of France.

The same applies to other countries. In Slovakia, for example, elections were just held in which a fairly decent result was achieved by the extremely xenophobic, nationalist party of Marian Kotleba “People’s Party – Our Slovakia.” Their electoral base is largely made up of the former left electorate. 

There are also several examples in Europe in which the exact opposite is happening. The electoral base and citizens who support the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, for example, is to a large extent composed of the former voters of the Republican Party, a far-right party. 

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This is an altogether new and family strange phenomenon in European party systems. I would say that what is happening now is a certain ideological synthesis of left and far right doctrines. Protest movements which are difficult to identify according to classical political categories of “Extreme left” and “extreme right” are arising in the framework of this synthesis. 

In other words, we are witnessing a consolidation of radical forces.

A large role here is played by just how strongly and clearly each of these parties professes certain slogans. These are far from classical ideological slogans confined to classical ideological frameworks. These are calls to protest and therefore, no matter what, these parties’ support will grow for many years to come.

In many countries, the establishment’s reaction to the emergence of such kinds of radical parties and movements is the desire to realize or at least attempt to utilize their rhetoric and slogans. This is what happened in Denmark, and to a certain extent in the United Kingdom, where David Cameron’s conservatives took up certain slogans for the referendum on leaving the EU which were, after all, the thesis of the British Eurosceptic party of Nigel Farage, UKIP.

Another way by which the establishment can protect itself from a wave of radical movements is changing the voting system. We can cite the example of France on this note. Long ago, in the 1980’s, the Front National began to rapidly gain popularity. Then, during the presidency of Francois Mitterrand, electoral law was reformed in 1986 which rested on the introduction of a majority system. As a result, despite the fact that the Front National won around 20% in elections to the National Assembly of France, the party was represented by only three deputies.

Due to the existence of the majoritarian electoral system and single-mandate districts in the United Kingdom, UKIP now has only one seat even though they attained the best results of all British political parties in the European Parliament where the proportional electoral system is used. 

Thus, the system and establishment can react by either adopting part of the radical parties and movements’s slogans, or by modifying electoral systems. The are the two main forms of reaction.

But if these parties and these slogans will not be represented in public debate and radical parties will not be given the opportunity to legally gather support and play a role in political and party systems, the most grave consequences await. 

Such could lead to the growth of groups and forms of political activity which would have a purely extremist and even criminal character. We are now witnessing this in Germany. Movements are once again appearing which operate outside of the law and use violence as a method of political struggle. Without a doubt, such a threat exists and cannot be counted out. 

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