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Europe and the Ongoing Challenge of Right-Wing Extremism

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013

Europe has consistently struggled to escape fully from the shadows of fascism and far-right politics. At various points since 1945, and despite continual attempts to forge European unity, mainstream political elites have been faced with a revival of public support for politicians or parties that are associated with fascism, anti-democratic ideas and prejudice. Whether expressed in strong performances by right-wing extremist parties at elections or periodic surges in levels of racially motivated violence, the landscape of postwar European politics has never truly been “far-right free.”

Far from being ephemeral, the far right in postwar Europe has proved to be remarkably resilient. So much so that, today, it could be argued that at no point during the entire postwar era has the challenge from this political tradition appeared so pressing. Though not successful within every party system in Europe, the far right has delivered a series of impressive performances across a series of recent elections. The 2012 presidential election in France, for example, saw almost 6.5 million citizens mobilize behind Marine Le Pen, who attracted almost 18 percent of the vote and secured the best presidential result for her party, the National Front, in its entire history. In the same year, in a contest that was widely regarded as a failure for the far right, voters in the Netherlands still awarded Geert Wilders’ explicitly Islamophobic Party for Freedom (PVV) with 10 percent of the vote and 15 seats in parliament. Nor does this support look set to subside: Since the election, opinion polls indicate that the PVV has become the most popular movement in Dutch politics. Meanwhile, farther north, in Denmark, the radical right polled more than 12 percent in the latest election, only a slight drop from the 13.9 percent it garnered in 2007. ...

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