(This article, which examines the surge of right-wing populism in Europe and its effect on democracy, peace and development, was contributed by Roshni Kapur, a freelance writer and graduate student, majoring in peace and conflict studies, at the University of Sydney in Australia.)
RIGHT-wing populism is making its mark in global politics with Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the US presidential election and the Brexit vote in Britain. Trump’s presidential success has galvanized global anti-establishment fervor. Europe is the region that has been struck most by right-wing populism where anti-globalization and protectionism is in full force.
Right-wing populism by large has taken multiple forms which stem from factors such as increasing inequality, stagnated salaries, influx of immigrants and terrorism. As the support for right-wing political parties increases, their extreme ideological stance is gradually blending into mainstream politics.
France held its presidential election on April 23 where 11 candidates with differing ideological views and visions for the country contested the polls. The highly anticipated elections saw far-right populist leader Marine Le Pen moving to the run-off election with her centrist counterpart Emmanuel Macron. The election results show that France is moving away from the far-left and center-right ideologies that have dominated its political landscape for decades and shifting to the right.
France is wrestling with questions such as national identity, globalization and de-industrialization. The influx of migrants and refugees in France has triggered concerns about whether they can assimilate into the country’s linguistic and cultural identity. The economy is not performing well either. The unemployment rate was at a glaringly high rate of around 10 percent in the last quarter of 2016. France has seen a string of attacks which have increased in frequency in the past few years. The country was shaken by the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris which killed more than 120 people.
Party of demagogues
Le Pen’s National Front (FN) party has capitalized on these critical issues to further its right-wing populist agenda. The party takes a hardline approach towards Islam, national identity, immigration and security. Their official website has thematic booklets on changes to the constitution, ways to combat Islamic extremism and healthcare plans for French people. The anti-immigrant party has used demagogy to blame foreigners for all or most of France’s problems. Demagogy is a propagandist tactic used by a politician or party to assume or maintain power. The FN is a party of demagogues which has stirred people’s passions in the pursuit of acquiring power.
Like other right-wing populist parties, the FN is eurosceptic which wants to abandon the euro and reexamine France’s relations with the European Union (EU). The FN also made big gains during the 2015 regional elections amid the public outrage after the Paris attack. The party capitalized on the attack and managed to secure 27 to 30 percent of the vote.
The FN has emphasized that the state’s resources such as housing, employment and education should be given to French nationals first. The idea of distributing state resources to nationals first undermines the principle of peace which states that human rights should be universal and for everyone.
The FN is also pushing to expel refugees from places such as Calais despite being a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. FN member Steeve Briois had called on the government to halt the Schengen treaties in order to re-establish controls at state borders. The objective of democracy is to ensure that the fundamental human needs for all, especially the most susceptible and powerless, are met. Refugees and asylum seekers are individuals with dignity and human rights who were forced to flee their countries to seek safety elsewhere. If refugees are not protected by these fundamental human rights, democracy has not achieved its purpose.
Right-wing populists consider immigrants as second-class citizens who are on the lowest rung of society. In a democracy, even the most vulnerable are empowered by being given a stake in the decision-making process. France needs to empower refugees and asylum seekers by giving them a share in the country’s decision-making process in order to meet their fundamental human needs and rights.
Germany’s brand of right-wing populism
Another country going to the polls this September is Germany. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) which has been making waves is expected to contest in the national poll for an unprecedented time.
The eurosceptic and anti-immigration party gained national popularity after criticizing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy, taking in people from refugee-producing countries. The party is pushing for controls over mass migration, exiting the Eurozone and reinstating a new state currency named the Deutsche-Mark (DEM).
The party has been well received both by right-wing extremist groups and people dissatisfied with the status quo. The AfD has stressed the importance of German culture, tradition and language, and does not consider Islam an integral part of its culture.
The surge in right-wing populist parties in France and Germany undermine democracy, peace and development. Besides France and Germany, other European countries such as Czech Republic and Hungary are heading to the polls in 2017/2018. The results of elections will determine the continent’s political landscape and whether it will uphold or dampen democracy, peace and development.