'Europe has to reform': How the far right grew in 2017

Trump and Brexit seized on in January and Austria becoming only country to bring in far right celebrated at end of 2017.

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    Demonstrators carry signs reading 'Nazis get out' during a protest in Vienna, Austria, where the far right has now entered government [File: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images]
    Demonstrators carry signs reading 'Nazis get out' during a protest in Vienna, Austria, where the far right has now entered government [File: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images]

    The rise of the far right was a defining feature of European politics in 2017.

    In December, the trend peaked with Austria becoming the only European country to bring the far right into government.

    Several parties have exploited discussions about immigration, Islam and the role of the European Union, considering them a threat to security, to win support, from France to Poland.

    "The far right didn't put immigration on the agenda, the refugee crisis did that," said Cas Mudde, an expert on far-right politics at the University of Georgia. "If we didn't have a far right we would have been talking about immigration and Islam, but they have had a very important [role] on how we talk about those things."

    Far-right movements, he said, are defined by "nativism, authoritarianism, and populism".

    "Brexit and Trump set up 2017 as the year of populism and the radical right," he told Al Jazeera. "There's still this broad understanding that radical rights are flash parties - they come out of nowhere, get big success, shake up the system and then disappear - that is empirically just not true for a lot of them."

    Europe has to reform ... I hope 2018 is the time when this will start.

    Pietro De Matteis, Stand up for Europe vice president

    This year, the far right heavily influenced mainstream parties, which feel threatened by the growth of populist parties.

    "When mainstream parties take over the agenda of the radical right, even if they don't implement the policies, they are saying the concerns are legitimate," said Mudde.

    As the far right celebrated gains, tens of thousands protested as xenophobic politicians and their supporters gathered in conference halls, campaigned at rallies and marched through cities. And with much hate speech spread online, in December, Twitter deleted accounts belonging to far right movements.

    But are these efforts satisfactory to remove this dangerous strain?

    With elections to continue in Europe in 2018, change is needed, said Pietro De Matteis, vice president of the pan-European citizens' movement, Stand up for Europe.

    "Europe has to reform, and reform around and with the citizens. I hope 2018 is the time when this will start," he told Al Jazeera.

    Below, we review the year.

    January: Far-right leaders meet in Germany, thousands protest

    Leaders of Europe's far right, including Marine Le Pen of France's National Front and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), convened in Germany's Koblenz on January 21 under the auspices of Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) - the smallest political group in the European Parliament.

    At least 3,000 protested against xenophobia as the meeting took place.

    Protesters demonstrate as European far-right leaders meet in Koblenz. Banner reads: 'They are back - citizens united against fascism' [Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters]

    Speakers hailed the election of US President Donald Trump and Britain's Brexit vote as victories for their cause.

    In his campaign, Trump repeatedly railed against immigration and Muslims, while Britain's vote to quit the EU was seen by far-right supporters as a step towards stricter border control.

    Le Pen told attendees: "In 2016, the Anglo-Saxon world woke up … In 2017, I am sure that it will be the year of the Continental peoples rising up," she said.

    March: Far right boosts in Hungary, the Netherlands

    In Hungary, Janos Ader was re-elected as president on March 13.

    He is a member of the ruling conservative Fidesz party, which has shifted further right, in part due to a campaign against billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) charity advocates for greater acceptance of refugees and migrants.

    Hungary's Fidesz party launched a smear campaign against philanthropist George Soros [Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

    In the Netherlands, the March 15 general election saw Geert Wilders' PVV party win the second-largest share of votes with more than 13 percent overall and a five-seat gain on the 2012 election. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, held on to his role.

    "Some people read the result as a defeat for the populists, but it was the opposite," Daniele Albertazzi, a lecturer in European politics at the University of Birmingham. "The key is to what extent they have influenced other parties, which in the Netherlands they have."

    Mudde agreed. "The success of the radical right is in agenda setting ... Who then implements that agenda is less relevant, just the fact that it's done," he said.

    May: Le Pen eyes the French presidency

    France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen made it to the second and final round of the French general election on May 7. 

    The party took more than 10 million votes - a record performance - but Emmanuel Macron won with 66 percent.

    "He won without giving in to the far right," said Mudde. "In a certain way Rutte won in the Netherlands ... by adopting the policies, and even the discourse of the radical right."

    September: Alternative for Germany surges in federal election

    Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD), which promised to ban all mosques and criminalise wearing the veil, emerged as the country's third biggest political force, winning 12.6 percent of the popular vote on September 24.

    Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union party secured 33 percent, down almost nine percent from the 2013 ballot.

    "Had Merkel scored 3 or 4 percent more we would all be talking about the end of populism and the new energy of liberal democracy," Mudde told Al Jazeera.

    Angela Merkel is still trying to form a coalition government.

    October: Austrians support far right, pave way for coalition

    Austria's Freedom Party (FPO), led by Heinz-Christian Strache, won 26 percent of the vote, becoming the third largest party, in the country's October 15 election.

    It entered government in December, forming a coalition with 31-year-old Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his Austrian People's Party.

    Both parties campaigned for tougher immigration rules and the deportation of asylum seekers.

    Protesters hold banners in December showing Kurz and Strache during the swearing-in ceremony of Austria's new coalition government [Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters]

    "There is nothing new in the success of these parties," said the University of Birmingham's Albertazzi. "But there are opportunities for them now that have been generated by the impacts of globalisation, the refugee crisis and many terrorist attacks in Europe.

    "Those [developments] have accelerated a process that was taking place anyway."

    October: Czech far right pushes ahead

    In the Czech Republic, the anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy party won 538,574 votes, or nearly 11 percent, and became a new parliamentary party.

    Chaired by Tomio Okamura, a Czech-Japanese politician, the party has links with Le Pen's National Front.

    In December, the party hosted Europe's far right in Prague, where leaders called for a Europe without the EU.

    In December, around 400 protesters rallied against leaders of the European far right as they gathered in Prague under the auspices of the ENF group [Philip Heijmans/Al Jazeera]

    November: Fascists join march of 60,000 people in Poland

    Some 60,000 people, including nationalists and fascists, took part in Warsaw's Independence March on November 11.

    The demonstration carried a clear anti-Islam and anti-EU message.

    We have had two world wars in the last century; we don't want conflict again ...Together we need to draft a new vision for the future of Europe, batting the problems people see as only being addressed by the populists

    Pietro De Matteis, Stand up for Europe

    "We know that politics led by extremists is a recipe for disaster," said Matteis of Stand up for Europe.

    "We have had two world wars in the last century; we don't want conflict again ...Together we need to draft a new vision for the future of Europe, batting the problems people see as only being addressed by the populists."

    Thousands of nationalists marched in Warsaw on Poland's Independence Day [Czarek Sokolowski/The Associated Press]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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