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15 days ago

Europe's turn to the right

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Is far right politics going to take over Europe?  Is the nightmare of the first half of the 20th century that saw the rise of fascism in Europe returning? After Mary Le Pen's far-right National Rally (formerly National Front) trumped President Emmanuel Macron's centre-right coalition in the European Parliament elections, he dissolved French Parliament and called a snap poll for the legislative assembly. The French voters are learnt to have participated in large numbers in the snap poll held on Sunday. The popular expectation is that the far-right National Rally party is going to dominate the race. If, like in the time of the 19th century Austrian diplomat and statesman, Klemens von Metternich, to whom is attributed the quote, 'When France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold', French political events are still the bellwether of European politics, then Europe is perhaps finally veering to the right. Perhaps, Macron is going to get a bloody nose in his political gamble.  Consider also the rise of the German far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). The lead candidate of this party declared that members of the Nazi SS (the black-uniformed, self-described political soldiers of Hitler's Nazi Party) were not necessarily criminals. A few eyebrows were raised, but AfD beat all other parties of the ruling coalition of Germany in the last European Parliament elections and got six new seats. 

While politics in Europe is experiencing a sharp polarisation, language of politics is also turning more intolerant and violent. Not only verbal abuse, political leaders have even been subjected to physical attacks. What do the developments signify? Is the era of post-World War II stability over? Obviously, political turmoil in Europe reflects the common people's dissatisfaction with the parties in power. The political volatility has worsened, especially after the war in Ukraine. In fact, the war has badly hit European industry. Cheap energy like natural gas and fossil oil from Russia that kept European homes warm during winter and drove the engine of the European economy is no more in the pipeline.The political right, as always, takes advantage of any public discontent to advance their agenda. The bogey of immigrants taking all the jobs and even changing Europe's culture is common rallying cry of the political right. Add to that the Islamophobia which is also rooted in the anti-immigrant politics. The reason is -- a large number of the immigrants are from the Middle-Eastern Arabs who are overwhelmingly Muslims.

Israel in its bloody Gaza offensive since October last year has been massacring unarmed Palestinian civilian population. But the European political class in power has failed to prevail upon Israel and stop the genocide. It has also worked as a trigger for the rise of the extreme right in Europe. Worse, pro-Palestinian protests are being suppressed by the centre-left and centre-right political coalitions in power in different European capitals. The pro-Palestinian voters, who are by default anti-establishment, are thus further weakening the pro-liberal parties' hold on power.

But these anti-immigrant rantings of the political right in Europe, though they can play on the disgruntled public's fears and prejudices, cannot offer any solution to the economic roots of the mass discontent. In fact, Europe needs immigrants as workers to keep its economy running. Here lies the paradox of the far-right politics of Europe. It is not that the far-right and populist politicians, who are mostly demagogues, are not aware of the limitations of their political agenda. They know if voted to power, they won't be able to resolve the economic problems of their constituencies. Still their support base is widening, thanks to the failure of the establishment politics on every front, economic or diplomatic. As a result, if anything, the extreme right, in some cases, as in Germany, has been able to remove the social stigma so far attached to it and normalise its programmes in national politics.

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