|Debates around multiculturalism in Europe have resurfaced amid the resugence of right wing parties [Getty]|
2010 has been a year where right wing parties of all denominations across Europe have been in the news. And from their point of view, this year has been quite a success.
Right wing parties across Europe, from those who are more centre to those who are ultra-right, have on the whole strengthend their positions in parliaments. And, when not stealing headlines for their impressive showing in elections, they stole them for the range of interesting. to say the least, policies they’ve manged to get passed.
But what does this shift to the right say about Europe?
The rise of right-wing parties across Europe this year 2010 is a story that says more about the challenges facing the European community – and the immigrants hoping to one day belong to it – than it does about the fabric of political discourse across the continent.
What to make of France’s burqa ban and Switzerland’s new deportation law (whereby immigrants, even life-long residents, are deported if found guilty of a crime)?
Both countries seem unlikely breeding grounds for bigotry, with France’s national motto being Liberté, égalité, fraternité and Switzerland housing multiple United Nations humanitarian offices in Geneva.
And how could Geert Wilders, the Dutch member of parliament who is on trial for hate speech against Muslims be the face of a party on the rise in the Netherlands?
Of course, this continental drift to the right has been building slowly, and the changes it brings represent a gradual shift of either values, perceptions or, perhaps, both.
Take Switzerland, which passed a ban on mosque minarets at the end of 2009. But given that according to Gallup Europe, Muslims constitute roughly 5 per cent of Swiss society and that there are four minarets in the country, it seems likely that the motives behind the referendum were political, rather than based in any justifiable fear that Switzerland was in real danger of losing its architectural heritage.
What remains is the sense that there is no single answer as to why the right is rising in Europe – it’s not as simple as wanting to exclude Muslims, even though a simplistic case could be made to that effect in France, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Nor could one say that people are exceptionally xenophobic, in Hungary and Denmark, where backlash against ethnic Roma has been intense.
The situation is complex.
Against the backdrop of wars in the Middle East and with terrorist attacks in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2007 still in mind, Europe is also dealing with a major recession.
And during this cycle of disappearing jobs and benefits, immigrants of all creeds and faiths represent a threat of some kind.
A threat that Europe’s right wingers have managed to succesfully take advantage of.