- “When discontent does not find anyone to direct itself against, it looks for its own representatives”
- “Danish populists combine an anti-immigration discourse with charitable chauvinism”
- Demands such as the “annihilation of gypsies” are not uncommon in Eastern Europe
50 additional policemen are hardly going to put free circulation inside the EU in any real danger. Probably no European citizen is going to be denied entrance into Denmark. And, really, nobody believes that the border posts Copenhagen ordered reopening in the beginning of July will do anything to fight cross-border crime.
But all of that does not matter. The fifty Danish agents play another role, a symbolic one: it sends Brussels the message that community agreements might be respected, or not. And to the citizens, that the government acts. The collateral effect is a blow to the Rule of law, because the action proves what the experts have been stating for some time now: the growing capacity of European far-right parties to put their issues on the political agenda.
The Danish Popular Party –anti-European, xenophobic, and, according to some estimates, even racist- got 13.3% of the votes in the 2007 elections. This result gave it 24 comfortable seats in the Folketing, the Parliament, and the chance to impose its demands onto an Executive power that needed its support. The fight against the crime that comes from the outside is one of them. If they could, they would ban immigration altogether, because letting “a Somali who doesn’t know how to do anything settle in their country, just cannot be allowed”, said Pia Kjaersgaad.
“When Pia Kjaersgaad broke away from the Progress Party and founded the DF, she took with her part of her old group’s program. But soon she substituted neoliberalism and hostility towards taxes for classic principles of social democracy, to which she attached views against the arrival of immigrants”, political scientist Jørgen Goul Andersen describes the recipe for success: “Danish populists have been able to combine an anti-immigration discourse with charitable chauvinism”.
Today, the DF’s electoral body is more working-class than even the Social Democratic Party’s. And this case is not unique in the Old Continent. Globalization, fear of social decline, individualism brought about by neoliberal policies, resentment against minorities or foreigners… For these 21st Century vicissitudes part of society seems not to get a satisfactory response from traditional politics, and when “discontent does not find anyone to turn to within the parties system”, warns German professor Richard Stöss, “it looks for its own representatives”.
Representatives such as Dutch Geert Wilders. A “man of the people” far from those politicians who are already so detached from the street; someone courtesy does not prevent from “calling a spade a spade”; a charismatic character who knows people’s fears and knows how to give them simple, understandable explanations, which always end up with an enemy or someone to blame, such as Islam.
List Pim Fortuyn was the first to discover and exploit for himself Muslim religion in the Netherlands, which he describes as a “backward culture” and a “menace to liberal society”. “Before 2001/2002, no party talked about Islam; that allowed Fortuyn to gain followers”, comments Paul Lucardie, political scientist at the University of Groningen, the same one where sociologist Fortuyn taught one day.
In January 2002, polls gave Fortuyn 15% of the votes. Three months later, he was shot dead by an environmental activist. The final result the party that carried his name, the LPF, got, was 17%: the best one ever achieved by a new political group in the Netherlands. This was followed by participation in the government, and fiasco: the coalition only lasted 87 days.
The LFP never recovered and the vacant space in the spectrum of what Lucardie calls “national populism” was occupied by Wilders: preaching the prohibition of the Koran –book he compares to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf- his Party for Freedom (PPV) got in the 2010 early elections 15.5% of the ballots, became the third political force and, like the Danish DF, a group that “tolerates” government action, and influences it proportionally.
“Death rates among newly created parties are huge”, says Goul Andersen. “Many pass away before even getting into parliament”, indicates Lucardie. Others are killed by taking on political responsibilities, when they are right-wing populist that suddenly have to put into practice impossible promises. However, in the last decade a fair wind seems to be blowing their way.
Surveys indicate that the National Front, now headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter, has more support than Nicolas Sarkozy’s UPM. The French government’s harsh actions against the Gypsies last summer are considered as an attempt by the conservatives to catch up to the right wing: another occasion for the extremists to set the pace. Last April, the True Finns, with 19.1% of the votes, became the third political force of the country; they are not part of the Executive because their anti-Europeanism is not compatible with the approval given by Helsinki to the Portugal rescue. In the 2010 regional elections, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League (12.8%) became a key player of tumultuous Italian politics.
Also in 2010, Sweden Democrats, self-designated “defenders of Swedish culture” against immigration, islamization and globalization, obtained for the first time representation in the Riksdag (5.7%). In 2009, the Norwegian Progress Party –authoritarian, anti-system, and anti-semitic- got its best result in parliamentary elections, 23%. In 2007 the Swiss Democratic Union of the Centre were, with 29%, the most voted group in the federal election, and last year their proposal to ban the building of minarets and to accelerate the expulsion of foreigners who commit an offense was approved by referendum.
And all of this not taking into account municipal, regional or European elections. Given their nature as “protest parties”, these groups usually harvest good results in elections voters consider “of little importance”. That is how in 2009 there was the paradox of a rise in the seats occupied by anti-Europeanists in the European Parliament.
The Eastern part of the continent does not escape the trend either. Xenophobic, homophobic, nationalist and religiously intransigent groups exceed the percentages needed to obtain seats, push conservatives further to the right, radicalize societies. Whether their name is Ataka in Bulgaria, Jobbik in Hungary or the Great Romania Party, they are cast in a similar mold and are not as different from their Western brothers as one might think. The talk against immigrants “is substituted here for attacks on Romanis or other minorities”, explains Kai Arzheimer, professor at the Mainz Political Science Institute. That way, demands such as the “annihilation of Gypsies” are not uncommon.
And Spain and Germany? “According to pure objective criteria, in those countries far-right parties should succeed too”, says Arzheimer. The Austrian Society for Political Advice and Development analyzes how in Spain –but also in Great Britain- traditional conservative parties cover sufficiently the sphere to the right, so the voter does not need to look elsewhere. “And of course, in the German case, the heritage from Nazism still carries weight, as probably in the case of Spain the shadow of the Franco regime”, adds Lucardie.
“That is likely”, answers Arzheimer to the question of if from now on we will see more right-wing populists sitting in parliaments. The consequences for democracy will depend on the system’s capacity to respond, on the established parties, on the possibilities minorities and those excluded find to get organized and claim their rights. But, anyway, experts reassure: “we shouldn’t forget that voting potential is also limited”, reminds Goul Andersen, “as are the chances of a structural growth of national populism”, continues Lucardie, “which I don’t believe have many chances of surpassing 25%”.