N.B.: The following article was originally published by Brown Political Review:
I had the privilege of editing for a section titled “Political Extremism in Europe”, which was featured in the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of the Brown Journal of World Affairs . The premise of the section was quite simple: Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, poorly-assimilated immigrants (particularly Arabs), and several other social and political fault lines had caused a rise in political extremism (mostly on the right) in several EU nations. Parties across the Union were calling for what many saw as deep neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant sentiment, and none of it was pretty.
Greece’s Golden Dawn had just fared surprisingly well at the polls, and France’s National Front (FN) had just—for the first time—won two seats in the National Assembly under Marine Le Pen. Both parties were prime evidence at the time.
But not long after, all the hype about neo-Facism faded. Francois Hollande’s much tamer Socialist government reasserted dominance in France, and Greece’s deepening economic woes led most of its media attention away from fringe politics and toward Mario Draghi’s presidency over the ECB.
Well, it’s happening again (sort of).
People are certainly flocking to these same eurofringe parties, but for different reasons. Immigration and other social issues have taken a backseat to Europe’s crushingly high debt, unemployment rates (roughly 27% in Spain and Greece), and anemic growth this year that underperformed expectations. I should note that the EU as a whole actually didn’t do too badly in 2013, but that’s mostly thanks to a surprising amount of growth in Eastern Europe. (The Czech economy expanded faster than it has in the last six years.) But Western Europe, where things are much, much worse than they have been in decades, truly isn’t doing so well economically.
How have people responded? Take a look (à la Quartz):
The candidates of these parties, by and large, are running to overthrow the EU. Yes, social issues like immigration are still on their minds, but what’s truly different and somewhat grandiose this time around is that many of these parties are working together, across national borders and restrictions, to muster support and political power at the super-national level—the European Parliament itself.
I find this quite scary for a few reasons: (1) regardless of your stance on the EU as a financial institution, the social planks upon which many of these parties were founded are frankly horrendous (see, for example, a leading Golden Dawn member calling Hitler at “great social reformer” and “military genius”); and (2) as somewhat of a corollary, very few economists expect Europe to suddenly explode with growth and FDI and spending in the next few years, and what that means is that the conditions the average Western European must face—think of the 56.1% youth unemployment in Spain—are not going to improve anytime soon. I wouldn’t claim that correlation implies causation, but it’s easy to frame an argument that support for these ultranationalist, neo-facist parties will probably continue to rise.
That doesn’t bode well for Europe politically. And economically, frankly.