Right-wing Radical Parties in Today’s Europe Part I

Right-wing radical parties such as the Danish People’s Party, the Sweden Democrats and high-profile politicians such as Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are receiving great attention in national and international media. Over the last two decades, immigration-critical parties have gained increasing support and influence in a number of European countries.

  • What are the characteristics of the right-wing radical parties?
  • What are the reasons for the emergence of the right-wing radical parties?
  • In which countries do right-wing radical parties have the strongest foothold?
  • Is the right-wing radical emergence as big as some media want it to be?

2: Four waves after 1945

The growth of right-wing radical parties in Europe after World War II can be described as four different waves . These waves have some common features, but are also characterized by different geographical impact, enemy image, popularity and legitimacy.

  1. The first wave was limited to a few countries (Italy and Germany) and consisted of parties with a very conflicting relationship with democracy.
  2. Also, the second wave covered only a few countries. These were new parties that either mobilized for dissatisfaction in the countryside (Finland and the Netherlands) or protest against taxes, fees and an emerging welfare state (France, Norway and Denmark). Many of these parties turned out to be short-lived bluffs – partly because they never built solid party organizations.
  3. The third wave became larger than the previous one and emerged in a number of countries from the mid-1980s onwards. It was only now that immigration skepticism became the central mobilization issue for the right-wing radical parties. The parties were also often referred to as right-wing populist because they presented themselves as “the people’s” representatives and appealed to widespread contempt for politicians.
  4. The fourth wave can be dated to the transition to the 2000s. Over the past decade, right-wing radicals have further increased their support. They have focused more on what they believe is the threat from Islam and Muslims. In addition, they have gained greater legitimacy in the population and among other parties. The parties have also criticized the European Union’s
    (EU) democratic deficit as one of their key issues.

3: Increasing support and government participation

Today, according to FRANCISCOGARDENING, such parties are largest in Switzerland and France. The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) received almost 27 percent of the vote in the 2011 election, and in France almost 18 percent of voters voted for the National Front (UN) party leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election in 2012. Never before has so many Frenchmen supported a candidate on the far right wing.

In other countries, right-wing radical parties have established themselves with somewhat less support. The charismatic (strong personal charisma) and anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders and his party, the Freedom Party (PVV), 10 percent in the Dutch election in 2012. In 2010, the Sweden Democrats (SD) managed for the first time to cross the Swedish barrier of four percent in 2010 , and Sweden’s position as the Nordic «different country» was over.

In a longer time perspective, support in Western Europe has increased sixfold – from 2 per cent in the mid-1980s to around 12 per cent today (see figure above). Right-wing radical parties are thus the most successful new party family in Western Europe after 1945.

However, it is not only in Northern and Western Europe that such parties receive great support. In Hungary, the very extreme party Jobbik increased its support from 2.2 per cent in 2006 to 16.7 in 2010. And in Greece, a very extreme party has established itself in connection with the country’s major economic problems. In the last election in, the party Golden Dawn received 6.9 percent of the vote and 18 seats in the Greek parliament.

Support in elections is just one of several criteria for “success”. Equally important for many political parties is the opportunity to influence politics directly through government participation – among other things as part of a government coalition. Also on this point, the right-wing radicals have increasingly succeeded.

After the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) entered government in 2000 (to much uproar in the EU), several right-wing radical parties have gained access to the innermost corridors of power. The Danish People’s Party was a support party for the Danish Liberal Conservative government for ten years, from 2001 to 2011. In Italy, the Northern League (Lega Nord) has been a permanent coalition partner in all the governments of the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi. In Switzerland, a special system of government formation means that the party SVP has had one or two ministers in a government with only six members. In Central and Eastern Europe there are several other examples, but most of these parties had their heyday in the 1990s.

4: The reasons for the growth of right-wing radical parties

The explanation for the turnout of right-wing radical parties in today’s Europe is complex . Among the factors that are most often highlighted in research, we find the following five partial explanations:

  • post-industrialization,
  • unemployment and mistrust,
  • immigration and xenophobia,
  • tabloid newspapers,
  • a new, more legitimate ideology.

Right-wing Radical Parties in Today's Europe 1

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