The results of the 2019 parliamentary elections proved to be much more satisfying for everyone than the polls suggested. The conservative right has taken over the continental legislature, however without much success, meaning that even in the next 5 to 6 years they will still definitely not be the strongest voice on the European political stage. Certain issues, however, should keep us on guard. The Conservative Right has earned1 a lot of votes in major states (considered by the East as models of democracy) such as France (RN, first place), Italy (Lega, first place + Fratelli de Italia, 5th place), Germany (AfD, 4th place), Hungary (Fidesz, 1st place), Poland (PiS, 1st place) and Great Britain (Brexit Party, 1st place).
Currently, the radical right is represented by the group Identity and Democracy (ID), the successor of the Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENL). ID has 73 representatives in the European legislature, 38 more than the ENL won in 2014. Besides ID, there are right-wing parties with questionable reputation in other European families. The most important would be: PiS (Poland) from the ECR with 25 MPs (most from the CRE) and Fidesz (Hungary) from the EPP (an uncertain future, Fidesz has the suspended member state2), with 12 representatives. The leaders Lega (Salvini) and Fidesz (Orban) are in good relations. During a visit by Salvini to Budapest, Orban expressed his sympathy for him, calling him a hero and companion of destiny. If Fidesz does not find a common language with EPP, it is assumed that it will either adhere to CRE or ID.
To those listed above, we could add the Brexit group with 30 seats, but the latter will most likely self-dissolve in the event the UK leaves the EU. If this is not the case, ID leader Marco Zanni states that he is open for collaboration. We could say that what is widely known as the populist right is represented at the moment by at least 105 + 30 MEPs, that is only by 15 less than Salvini expected3.
Perhaps the radical right will not be the most powerful force on the continent, but it will certainly use European law as a platform to spread messages and strengthen positions at home.
The ascent of the right. A few reasons
The radical right, alongside the Greens, is the most successful political force in Europe today. It achieved this by endorsing simple, yet not necessarily feasible solutions to real and concrete issues. The success of the right is not only rhetorical in nature, because what it addresses are a number of harsh and apparent realities that EU citizens face.
Journalist and political analyst, Faisal Al Yafai4, gives us three reasons that led to the remarkable rise of the radical right in the EU. The first would be the expansion of the EU in 2004-07 with 12 other states in Eastern Europe, which led to a massive exodus of workers to the West. The second would be the financial crisis of 2008, that led to wage cuts, the adoption of austerity measures and other decisions that directly affected the already disadvantaged communities. The third, the African and Asian migrant crisis. These three shocks have shaken the European Union and created situations to which the centrist mainstream did not have quick answers, but to which the far right seems to have clear answers.
First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans5 recently acknowledged in an interview that austerity policies are to blame for the rise of the right: “We must make sure that the big corporations who win big money in Europe will start to pay taxes, which is not happening now. For this we need Europe, the Member States cannot do this separately. […] We must also make sure that wages will increase, because one of the weaknesses of the European economy is that people do not have enough money to spend. […] I think one of the reasons why the far right is growing in many parts of Europe, is that people are tired of the way the financial sector has behaved.”
One reason of delaying the hegemony of the right would be the greatest presence6 at elections since 1994, representing 50.5% of the citizens with voting rights. 8% more than in previous elections. Also, an important factor would be the great presence7 of young people (18-24 years) of about 42%, which is 14% more than in 2014.
The good part. The divergences from within
In general, far-right parties want fewer immigrants, more emphasis on national sovereignty and a certain reorientation of the social-economic priorities, including in the context of foreign policy.
These elections gave the impression that they are a force to be reckoned with, but there are some major differences between them.
For example, migration8. Salvini, the leader of the Lega, stated that he wants to redistribute migrants in all EU states. Representatives of the German Right Alternative are more categorical and say they do not want any immigrants.
Another point of disagreement would be Russia9. Salvini and Le Pen are in very good relations with Vladimir Putin, but some representatives of the Baltic, Polish and Scandinavian parties condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. Today they are allies, but we cannot know how their ideas will be shaped over the course of time. However, their decision to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and create a bloc is of symbolic value and will surely contribute to deepen the nationalist sentiment in each country.
Some tangents. The discourse of the Right
According to Cas Mudde10, the core of radical right ideology contains three features: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism.
Nativism is a radical and even xenophobic form of nationalism. The belief that the state should ideally be inhabited only by the members of that nation. Everyone and everything that is not native – that is, the Other – is a threat. An attack on the identity of the nation as a whole. In most of the right speeches we can observe the invocation of a glorious past, a call to restore the greatness of the past and the blame towards the decadent present in which the progressives have allowed too much.
Authoritarianism assumes that society should be strictly ordered, that any deviation from the natural order (natural, in the case of the right) must be severely punished. What is often invoked by the right is a certain “security” of the borders. A rigorous control for the sake of the security and integrity of the majority ethnic group, but also for the defense against the hordes of immigrants who come to disturb the peace. The vigilante speech and the fight against corruption are frequently used by the right.
Populism is a political instrument that I discussed in more detail in an earlier article11 of mine. In his book “On the populist rationale”, Ernesto Laclau defines populism as a discursive strategy of raising a political border which devides society into two or more camps. Populism is a tool to call for mobilizing the “underdogs” against “those in power / agents of power”. We cannot deny this is happening at the other pole too. One of the enemies often invoked by Steve Bannon12 are the “political elites”, the “establishment”. Sometimes even names, like George Soros, are invoked.
Both types of populism (left and right) aim to coagulate the unmet demands of the population, only that they do so in totally different ways. The difference lies in the composition “We” and the way in which the adversary – “They” – are defined13. In the case of the right, We would be white Europeans, Christians and members of the so-called traditional families, and Them – Muslims, Roma, migrants from Africa and Arab countries, progressives, Marxists and members of the LGBT communities.
The economy is a secondary topic for radical right-wing parties. Often it is used to underline other aspects of their ideology. Mostly, a speech in support of the local economic elite and the protection against foreign influence. A good example, less European, but certainly a trendsetter, would be the economic war between the US and Chinese telephone companies14. However, some radical right-wing movements are vocalizing anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist criticism.
If we already mentioned Bannon, in 2017 he established the so-called The Movement. The Movement is an organization that deals with the promotion of right-wing European populist nationalist groups that oppose EU policies and political structures. Bannon’s most notorious ally, also a member of the movement, is certainly Salvini15. The Brothers of Italy are also part of the movement. Bannon also tried to flirt with other notorious right-wing leaders in Europe, such as Orban, Le Pen or Geert Wilders. The Hungarian prime minister even welcomed16 the US attempt to promote traditional and Christian values in Europe, and also an alternative way of thinking about politics. However, not all the right wing tolerates Bannon, for example, the AfD in Germany rejects “American attempts”17 to influence European politics, and UKIP, although they initially showed some interest, invoked differences18 in their views.
The sponsors of the Right
In May 2019, shortly before the European Parliament elections, a video19 was published, featuring Heinz-Christian Strache, the former Vice-Chancellor of Austria, who is also the leader of the far-right party, the Freedom Party (FPO). The video captures Strache in the entourage of Aliona Makarov, the daughter of a Russian oligarch. He was promising favorable contracts with the Vienna government in exchange for positive media coverage. This led to the resignation of the government and the announcement of new elections. At he same time, the FPO was taxed by its voters and at the European Parliament elections they registered a much lower score than expected. Nevertheless, the FPO is far from being the only party that has close ties20 with the Russian Federation.
Viktor Orban has been accused numerous times for his relations with the Kremlin. He invited21 the International Investment Bank of Moscow to relocate to Budapest, offering full diplomatic privileges and immunities for its employees. He also signed a contract22 worth € 12.5 billion with Rosatom for the opening of the PAKS II nuclear power station on the territory of Hungary. The project was approved without an auction. The Hungarian prime minister is also one of the most vocal supporters in the EU for lifting Western sanctions against Russia, and in 2014 Hungary suspended gas flows to Ukraine “for an unlimited period”.
Matteo Salvini frequently expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin and made several trips to Russia to meet with Edinaia Rossia representatives. The league signed a cooperation agreement23 with Putin’s party in March 2017. The Lega leader has repeatedly called on the EU to lift sanctions against Russia, arguing that they are badly affecting Italian exporters.
Marine Le Pen also declared her support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. During the 2017 French election, in which she was Emmanuel Macron’s main opponent for the presidency, she assured Mr. Putin during an official visit that, if elected, she would lift the sanctions imposed on Russia. In 2014, the National Rally, the former National Front, took loans24 from First Czech-Russian Bank worth 9 million euros. According to the sources of the Mediapart25 portal, this amount would be only the first installment of a grant of 40 million euros. Le Pen justified26 herself stating that no local bank wanted to offer her the necessary financial support.
In a BBC27 report, it was alleged that Markus Fronhmaier, an AfD member, could be funded by Kremlin people. Fronhmaier denied these speculations, but not just once did he spoke against sanctions imposed on Russia and also made visits to Crimea or other parts controlled by separatists in Ukraine. AfD leader Alexander Gauland is in good relations with Alexander Dughin28, and some AfD members participated in the Yalta International Economic Forum29. Also, according to an investigation by Der Spiegel30, AfD activity was facilitated by considerable financial contributions from billionaire August von Finck. Von Finck’s father was one of Adolf Hitler’s sponsors and made a fortune in confiscating Jewish property. Von Finck, a great nationalist and patriot, has lived in an old castle in Switzerland since 1999, in order to avoid paying taxes.
Even those overseas are not indifferent to the fate of the continental right. An Open Democracy investigation31 reveals that no less than $50 million was donated between 2004 and 2017 by groups close to Steve Bannon and President Donald Trump to all sorts of “traditional” values groups. This money sponsored lawyers and political activists of militating for “family values” and advocates fighting against LGBT rights, sex education and abortion.
Among the biggest sponsors is Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow. The names of the Koch brothers, billionaires known for their conservative visions, are not missing. The investigation also talks about the connection these groups have with the organizers of the World Congress of Families32, an incubator of crypto-fascism and right-wing extremism, of which was written on Platzforma before.
Also, the support33 of well-to-do American conservatives was also enjoyed by the leader of the Dutch Far Right Party (PVV), Geert Wilders, known for his anti-Islam and anti-EU views. Mostly, the money came from the David Horowitz Freedom Center foundation.
The links between the right-wing parties are suspiciously many and should make us pay attention. From what we can see, these groups of patriots and xenophobes defending traditional values are nothing more than a multinational corporation that defends interests completely foreign to those of ordinary people they claim to be militants for.
Some theory instead of Conclusion
In the realm of fiction, we find many lives that we want. We die in identification with a certain hero, but we still survive and, quite unharmed, we are ready to die again with the next hero (with whom we identify).
Sigmund Freud, Reflections on War and Death
In their own terms, the fascists (the predecessors of the contemporary radical right) did not intend to undermine the democratic bases of their states, be it Italy, Germany, Romania or Spain. Of course, there were anti-liberals and anti-socialists, but it is simply a mistake to consider them anti-democrats, according to Dylan Riley34.
The right-wing parties appeared, both in the thirties and today, by formulating requests for a profound renewal of political institutions, which would make the state more responsive to the needs of the population than it had previously been. Their rise is closely linked to the failure of the political left to fully embrace a plausible project of democratization and the “free market” authoritarianism, which does not want to challenge its dogmas – this creates frustration and anguish for the economic losers. Therefore, the key task of the progressive left is to lead a democratic revolution, while avoiding the technocratic project of “defending the existing institutions”, which are largely undemocratic35.
The French National Front had begun to reinvent itself since the 1990s, but since Marine Le Pen became its leader in 2011, the party has really begun to take on a new image. Its discourse changed and it no longer demanded its old ideological and political principles. They are now positioning themselves as an alternative, ordinary, non-traumatic choice. Unlike her father, Marine has the ambition to transform the system from within36.
In Enzo Traverso’s view, Post-Fascism (a generic name for the European radical right) could be seen as the result of the defeat of the twentieth century revolutions. After the collapse of Communism and after the Social Democrats embraced neoliberal policies (the so-called Third Way), the radical right began to be recognized in many countries as the most influential force opposed to the “system”. Even if it resists to show any subversive position and avoids any competition with the radical left (because no one competes with the marginals). Indeed, the right has become a kind of counter-culture.
In the next few years, according to Mouffe37, the main political confrontation will be between right-wing populism and left-wing populism. Therefore, it will be manifested through two discourses that will aim at building a “people”, a collective will. What the left should try to do is mobilize common affections in defense of equality and social justice. Only that way, Mouffe believes, will it be possible to combat the xenophobic policies promoted by the right.
We are in a period of crisis in which several elements of the consensus around a hegemonic project are challenged. A solution of the crisis is not yet in sight, namely this situation characterizes the “populist moment” in which we find ourselves today. Therefore, the “populist moment” is the expression of a variety of resistance to political and economic transformations seen in the years of neoliberal hegemony. These transformations have led to a situation that we might call “post-democracy”38. According to Mouffe, this implies the erosion of the two pillars of the democratic ideal: equality and popular sovereignty. It is characterized by the emergence of multiple resistance forces towards a political-economic system that is increasingly perceived as being controlled by privileged elites who are deaf to the demands of other groups in society.
To stop the rise of the right-wing populist parties, it is necessary to design an appropriate political response through a left-wing populist movement that will coagulate all democratic struggles against post-democracy. In Mouffe’s view, instead of a priori excluding voters of the right-wing populist parties, who are moved by “atavist” passions (improper), and condemning them to remain prisoners of these passions forever, it is necessary to recognize the democratic core at the origin of many of their requests.
A left-wing populist approach should try to provide a different vocabulary to guide these demands toward egalitarian and democratic goals. This does not mean condemning the politics of the right-wing populist parties, but the refusal to assign their voters responsibility for how their demands are articulated39. We must not deny that there are people who are ok with those reactionary values, but surely, since they will interact with a different language, some would realize that there are alternative answers and approaches. They will understand that in order to live better it is not necessary to invent and exclude another and that this is not the way to expand and deepen democratic values. The purpose of the left, says Mouffe, is to radicalize democracy, to coagulate all popular demands in a common will and to articulate them against the true enemy: The Oligarchy.
People do not fight so easily against “capitalism” because it is an abstract entity. They do not believe in a “law of history” that leads to socialism. Only on the basis of concrete situations, they are motivated to act. It is not the struggle in the name of anti-capitalism that mobilizes them, but only the one built around their real values and aspirations. LikBez copied from the Bolsheviks no longer works, because the masses are no longer illiterate, and if at the beginning of the 20th century, peasants and workers were fighting for adequate working conditions, in the 21st century, people also ask for the approval of their own personality. Unfortunately, some representatives of the radical left have not learned their lesson and continue to approach people on the basis of past learned theories. Insensitive to the demands of the people, their anti-capitalist pleadings do not reach their destination, thus establishing their position as marginal for many years to come.
Center-right and Center-left lost considerably after the elections. The Greens, Eurosceptics and the radical right had only to win. But what will the left do?
Mouffe believes that the launch of a counter-hegemonic struggle against the neoliberal model can only be carried out on behalf of democratic and ecological values. Which implies an alliance between the Reds and the Greens. This does not mean moving away from the history of the left, but rather recognizing that a historical cycle has come to an end and that it is necessary to move on.
12 Munk Debate: The Rise of Populism
13 Chantal Mouffe, For a left populism
34 The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe (Dylan Riley)
36 The New Faces of Fascism (Enzo Traverso)
37 For a Left Populism (Chantal Mouffe)
This article is part of the project “Verona World Congress of Families 2019”. The project is supported financially by the Soros Foundation, through the Department of Justice and Human Rights.
Translated in English by Ion Gnatiuc.
The original article was published in Romanian under the title ”Dreapta Radicală Populistă sau Internaționala Naționalistă?” and can be found here: https://platzforma.md/arhive/387589