Straw in the wind?

Geert Wilders, a veteran far-right politician, best known for his antiIslamic rants shocked everyone, as he led his Party for Freedom (PVV) to a victory in the Dutch Elections.

Straw in the wind?

Representative image (Photo:SNS)

Geert Wilders, a veteran far-right politician, best known for his antiIslamic rants shocked everyone, as he led his Party for Freedom (PVV) to a victory in the Dutch Elections. Mr Wilders’ victory is not absolute ~ PVV has won merely 37 seats in a 150- seat Parliament; yet, being the largest party, PVV and Wilders are in pole position. Even after toning down his rhetoric, Mr Wilders has pledged to halt a “tsunami of asylum and immigration” to the Netherlands. Socialists led by Frans Timmermans, a former EU Commissioner who famously said: “It doesn’t matter to us where your cradle was.

You are welcome in the Netherlands if you flee from war and violence,” took second place with 25 MPs. Wilders is not an outlier; far-right parties are on the rise across Europe. Giorgia Meloni became Western Europe’s first far-right post-war prime minister after her Brothers of Italy won nearly 26 per cent of the vote in the September elections. Far right political parties are in power in Hungary and Poland, and in France, Marine Le Pen finished a close second in the 2022 presidential elections.

The AfD, a party with neoNazi roots, is the second most popular political party in Germany. Austria can be said to be the breeding ground for the radical right; almost 25 years ago the far-right populist Freedom party (FPÖ) won almost 27 per cent of the vote and formed government. Scandinavian countries, most recently Finland, have seen far-right parties emerge as kingmakers. There are a number of economic, social, cultural and political reasons for the current rise of the far-right in Europe. Shifting of manufacturing activity to China has meant shrinking of the industrial working class, who traditionally supported leftwing parties.


The financial crisis of 2008, followed by the economic crisis in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was worsened by the Ukraine war, has led to a cost of living crisis for the poor, and has exacerbated inequalities in society, making people reject conventional political parties and look for simplistic solutions, like throwing out foreigners, and overthrowing the ruling “political class.” It has not helped that most governments in the free world are in the thrall of moneybags; there is no real difference between the economic agenda of most conventional political parties, which offer only subtle variations on a single pattern.

Calling for direct political participation and for placing trust in a “charismatic” leader, the far right capitalises on public disenchantment with a corrupt, privileged and oligopolistic political class. With an ability to connect with the people without intermediaries, the rightists encourage voters to reject conventional parties, for their crony capitalism and inability to solve social problems. Radical right has ersatz solutions for all current problems; for the economy, protectionism and welfare chauvinism; in politics, a hard line and direct participation; at the social level, a xenophobic anti-immigrant discourse based on fear and hatred; and at the cultural level, an emphasis on traditional family and religious values.

The current wave of illegal immigrants from the MiddleEast and Africa has made the far-right discourse degenerate into demagoguery; Muslim immigrants are depicted as being incapable of integration and as intractable opponents of “Christian and Western civilisation.” Rising crime rates, including terrorism, are blamed on immigrants who are accused of looting the welfare state, and even for reintroducing diseases, that had been eradicated in Europe. Briefly put, far right political thought is the very antithesis of the conventional European ideological tradition of liberalism and multiculturism.

However, electoral politics have forced mainstream parties to discard taboos against farright groupings, that date back to the war against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Many Governments including the supposedly liberal British one, have begun to implement some of the Right’s favourite solutions like the expulsion and incarceration in near jail-like conditions of undocumented immigrants. One can say that the far right has managed to tilt both “moderate” conservatives and a segment of the social democrats towards the right.

Resultantly, most European governments have toughened their asylum laws, restricting incoming immigration as much as possible, and reestablishing internal border checks in violation of the spirit of the Schengen agreement. The essence of far-right politics is epitomised in a massive banner erected in central Madrid by the hard-line Vox party that showed a hand tossing symbols representing feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, Catalan independence, climate crisis action, and communism into a bin. The far right advocates full-blown Euro-phobia ~ far beyond mere Euro-scepticism ~ arguing that globalisation and Europeanisation are two sides of the same coin, that is, attempts by the powerful élites to denationalise European peoples.

Taking the narrative further, the EU is portrayed as a sort of modern-day Soviet Union, an artificial anti-national construct. It may be tempting to label the far-right as fascists but the reality is far more complex; an unholy marriage of convenience seems to have taken place between centrists who are drifting rightward, and the radicals of the hard-Right who are embedding themselves within the mainstream. Needless to say, the new policies of conventional parties fly in the face of the best of the European Enlightenment tradition. The nadir was reached when Mark Rutte (PM of Holland), Ursula Von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) and Giorgia Meloni (PM of Italy) embarked on a joint mission to Tunisia, to convince the dictator Kais Saied to act as Europe’s border guard, for a monetary consideration.

Not to be outdone, Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman conceived an illegal immigration plan, struck down by the Supreme Court, by which immigrants arriving in Britain without proper documents, after 1 January 2022, would have been deported to Rwanda. Looking to the future, to the Europe of the 2020s, one foresees a continuation of the EU, but with a perceived shift to the Right. Probably, the bloody Russia-Ukraine war, and an inexorable and increasing flow of migrants from the south, leaves Europe with no other option. The win by Wilders will definitely increase the pressure on the EU, and its governments, to reduce the influx of migrants into Europe, which has reached a level not seen since the migrant crisis of 2016.

Should Wilders become the PM, right-wing parties, especially in France, Germany and Belgium, will receive a boost for the European parliamentary elections, due in June, 2024. On the other hand, the choice with liberals of the moderate right, centre-left and left are rather limited. Dissatisfied with current restrictive, ineffective and unfair migratory policies and the prevalent socio-economic milieu, liberals may want to continue with the welfare state, with its multiculturism and egalitarian redistributive values. However, they face the challenge of connecting with the large majority of citizens, and making their polity more participatory.

Finally, as all countries in Western Europe are functioning democracies, the battle is one of perception, fought with the goal of avoiding tags like, fascist, Nazi and neo-Nazi, whatever be the true nature of actions of the Government. The political scientist and historian, Robert O. Paxton observed succinctly: “An inverse relationship exists in contemporary western Europe between an overtly fascist “look” and succeeding at the ballot box. So the leaders of the most successful extreme Right movements and parties have laboured to distance themselves from the language and images of fascism” ( The Anatomy of Fascism).

DEVENDRA SAKSENA The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax