Here to stay: anti-establishment parties in Europe

Political observers have given much attention to the far right and to right-wing populist challengers. Since the 1990s, in particular, these parties have either entered national parliaments for the first time or increased the number of seats they hold. In most European countries they are relevant political players.

It is true that, at the moment, right-wing populist parties are part of the government in only four countries: in the non-EU countries Norway (the Progress Party, Fremskrittpartiet) and Switzerland (the Swiss People’s Party, Schweizerische Volkspartei); and since the most recent elections in 2015, in the EU countries Greece (Anexartiti Ellines, Independent Greeks) and Finland (Perussuomalaiset, The Finns Party).

However, that these parties are generally found in the opposition should not lead one to underestimate the phenomenon. The recent European elections in 2014 have once again shown that such parties can attract a critical mass of disillusioned floating voters, particularly with their clear anti-immigration stance, but also with the message ‘Europe – no thanks!’.

The politics of exclusion, intolerance and xenophobia on the right-wing end of the political spectrum certainly deserves attention. Distrust in conventional parties seems to consistently correlate with far-right outsider party support and has become a permanent factor in European party politics. However, the sole focus on the ‘radical right-wing party family’ is, in some respects, misleading. This can be seen from the following four points.

First, the right-wing parties differ considerably, ranging in nature from democratic to clearly extremist. Moreover, they come from member states from Western to Central Eastern Europe. Consequently, after the European Parliament elections in 2014, they did not form a European group, but split up into different factions or decided to stand alone.

The ‘merger’ of Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front (Front National, FN); Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV); and Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), was more a successful public relations stunt than a real sign that they intended to join forces. These parties operate more on the idea of a common enemy (e.g. the West, the EU, Islam, globalisation, elites and the media) than on a shared ideology or coherent programme.

Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.