Monday, February 6

The rise of the extreme right threatens to fragment the European Union


From left to right, the leader of the Lega, Matteo Salvini, the leader of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, and the leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni. / AFP

Nationalist and eurosceptic discourses gain strength in Sweden, Bulgaria and Germany, in the heat of the crisis caused by the war

Olatz Hernandez

Vox’s 52 seats in Spain, the rise of Marine LePen in France… After the pandemic, in the midst of an energy crisis and with an increase in prices due to the war in Ukraine, populist formations and nationalist movements have gained strength and They threaten to spread across Europe. The extreme right already controls Hungary and Poland; and it is becoming strong in countries like Bulgaria, Sweden, Germany and Italy, against a European Union that is often seen as an elitist and denationalizing machine.

The European Commission never comments on the electoral processes of the Member States, but it watches with concern the Italian elections this Sunday. Not in vain, the fifth power of the European Union (EU) could remain in the hands of the Brothers of Italy party, an heir formation of fascism and which is committed to giving more sovereignty to European countries against “the bureaucracy” in Brussels.

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This trend has already taken hold in Sweden, where the extremist movement Sweden Democrats became the second most voted force in the September elections, with 20.5% of the support. Founded in 1988 by a former SS volunteer from Nazi Germany, its current leader, Jimmie Akesson, worked to give the party a facelift and decouple it from its origins.

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The formation was gaining support with slogans very similar to those used by Donald Trump – ‘Sweden first’ and ‘Let’s make Sweden good again’ – and a discourse against immigration, a message that also permeates other Nordic countries such as Denmark (Danish People’s Party), Norway (Progress Party) and Finland (Finn Party).

The ‘cordon sanitaire’

In France and Germany, the far-right cordon sanitaire has functioned as a firewall to prevent these parties from coming to power. However, little by little, these formations are advancing: Marine LePen’s party has 88 deputies in the French National Assembly and the Alternative formation for Germany (AfD) -which defends the dissolution of the euro zone- is becoming strong in the East German states such as Saxony and Thuringia.

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The AfD’s ideology clashes head-on with the founding values ​​of the EU. The party is opposed to the financial rescue of peripheral countries and the expansion of the bloc. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution went so far as to classify its hard-line faction as a movement “against the basic free democratic order” and placed the group under surveillance for its links to neo-Nazism.

For now, the ultra-conservative right only governs in Hungary and Poland. However, these two countries, on their own, have proven to be two uncomfortable partners for the EU Executive. Budapest and Warsaw blocked the approval of recovery funds during the pandemic and delayed the adoption of the sixth package of sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. The European Parliament went so far as to describe Viktor Orbán’s government as an “autocracy”.

Pro-Russian tendencies

The crises due to the war in Ukraine and the increase in inequalities form the perfect breeding ground for the extreme right. In 2021, more than a fifth of the EU population -95.4 million people- was at risk of poverty or social exclusion, according to data from the European Statistical Office (Eurostat). And with rising inflation those figures threaten to skyrocket, especially in southern and eastern European countries.

Marine Lepen. /

CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

In Bulgaria, which is holding elections on October 2, the latest polls give 22% of the vote to pro-Russian parties. High energy prices have had a terrible impact on the country and its population, highly exposed to Russian propaganda.

It is not the only country that finds itself in a strange gray area, between the West and Moscow. In Serbia, the populist Aleksandar Vucic won re-election with 59.8% of the support. Although the leader assured that the country will follow the path to join the EU, he stressed that “it will not destroy relations with its traditional friends”, referring to Russia and China.

Italy at the polls: Berlusconi, the extreme right and a country in decline

In a Union in which sensitive decisions – those related to security, energy and foreign policy – are taken unanimously by the member states, the rise of nationalism and the extreme right threaten to fragment the unit. The European bloc, for its part, plans to convene a convention to reform European treaties and be able to reserve unanimity only for exceptional cases.

This was announced by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in her speech on the State of the Union, entitled ‘A Union that stands strong together’. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the community leader has been characterized by her messages calling for unity and solidarity among member states. “When we work for the same goal, there is nothing that we Europeans cannot achieve,” she pointed out to the European Parliament.

Faced with the threat of Russian missiles, Von der Leyen stressed that “we must deepen and strengthen the democracies of our continent.” A plan that could be frustrated by the results of the Italian elections.


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