Is the far-right on the downhill road in Europe? As much is the message of the elections in Austria, indeed a phenomenon that it shares with Italy, Spain, and France. Notably, the nationalist Freedom party’s (FPO) vote in Austria has plummeted to 16 per cent ~ a 10 percentage point drop. It would be a mite premature to aver that the tide has turned for the Continent’s far-right; yet there is little doubt that its ascendancy, fuelled by the migrants crisis, is palpably on the decline.
Sebastian Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) won 37.1 per cent of the vote, its best score since 2002, while the share of FPÖ, until May his junior coalition partner in government, has fallen to the level that it has. Voters deserted the FPÖ after its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, was filmed offering lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support to a woman claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.
Aside from such individual aberrations, the result fits into a wider continental pattern. Specifically, the far-right, nationalist and populist parties are now facing increasingly stiff political or institutional resistance. Clearly, they have failed to capitalise on their progress in the polls to the extent that many observers had predicted. While the social and economic discontent and the dissatisfaction with Europe’s mainstream parties that fuelled their recent surge are far from spent, the nationalists are no more able than anyone else in Europe’s fragmented political landscape to secure clear majorities for their cause.
Across Europe, the gradual decline of the far-right is unmistakable. And a revival of the libertarian tradition would be perfectly concordant with the stirring history of Europe. In Italy, the former interior minister Matteo Salvini, of the far-right League party, is out after his government collapsed. And the nationalists are said to be nursing a self-inflicted bloody nose. In elections in two crucial German regions this month, the farright, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party did register record scores, but it did not win a majority in either.
In France, Emmanuel Macron seemed under serious threat earlier this year, shaken by the violent Saturday demonstrations of the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement and the advance of the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen. But the centrist President is now ahead in the polls, his approval rating at its highest since July 2018. In Spain, the far-right Vox party has managed to lose ground in the polls despite the failure of the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, to form a government. The underlying factors of far-right populism ~ rising inequality, austerity, fear of immigration, globalisation, automation ~ persist.