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Neo-fascists and far-right: conquering Europe

This article aims at analyzing the neo-fascist and far-right parties that have increased their support in many countries. The analysis made on a country to country basis highlights how these parties have numerous points in common, are strongly growing and in view of the upcoming European elections, can aspire to be one of the forces that will greatly influence European policy in the next years.

A black shadow over Europe

It is a very particular historical moment, as the economic crisis that hit the world in 2008 has created new groups of poverty in the Western populations. The economic crisis has been followed by a political crisis that is still currently occuring in our society, especially in the Old Continent. In Europe, the system of traditional parties and liberal democracies that has accompanied us since the end of the Second World War is collapsing. The participation of citizens in political life is always smaller and this can be realized by looking at the turnout decline at the polls for each election.

In this socio-cultural context, far-right movements are growing in Europe and for the first time since the Second World War there are also movements that do not deny the ideologies, like fascism and Nazism, that hurt Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. This growth takes place in an economic context where the crisis has weakened the middle class, has widened the gap between the rich and the poor and where politicians have stood by, watching, without finding solutions and often being insensitive to the new needs of citizens.

In almost all European countries, the old social-democrat parties are disappearing while the conservative parties still resist slightly, but the governments are increasingly composed by large centrist coalitions. Almost everywhere, parliamentary extremes grow, much more those on the right than those on the left wing. These growing movements are often labeled and sometimes dismissed as populists, without going deeper into understanding the ideologies they promote and the success they gain.

Starting from the values fostered by these parties: few among them define themselves as « neo-fascists », but none of these parties condemn or openly criticize the fascism in the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s. All these parties instead call themselves « nationalists », meaning a vision of their state being superior to others. This nationalist vision opens up two other recurring ideological pillars of the European “black” parties: the first is the anti-Europeanism, meant as an extreme defense of their own national culture to the detriment of the integration between European cultures; and the other is racism and discrimination towards everything that is different to them.

All these parties are recognizable by anti-immigration policies and for various forms of discrimination towards religions and social categories. We often find this discrimination in their public speeches and they have repeatedly been recognized by the courts of different EU Member States. In Europe they have all grown in recent years, some have had some sudden bursts, others have set themselves on the political scene with a continuous and progressive growth. Even in the 2014 European elections, many members of these parties were elected parliamentarians and they now express themselves on European matters from Brussels.

Poland and Hungary, far-right moderates?

Since 2010, Viktor Orbàn is President of Hungary’s government, and controls the absolute majority of the national parliament with his party Fidesz. Since then, Orbàn has made a constitutional reform regarding the “traditional family” and exalts the “Christian values of Hungary”. It advocates a strong anti-immigration policy, placing itself in strong contrast with the European Union’s policies. In fact, it has applied many of the measures envisaged by the populist propaganda of European rights, also removing the Hungarian Central Bank from the euro-zone system to which it does not want to participate anymore. During the “migrant crisis”, Orbàn has raised a wall at the border to prevent Syrian refugees from entering national territory.

If the Hungarian government cannot be defined as moderate, the polls for the 2018 parliamentary elections indicate that Fidesz will win again the elections with at least 50% of the votes, and behind them will arrive the party Jobbik, with 20% of the votes. Jobbik describes itself as a party of radical nationalism, but the description that critics make of it is that of an anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi party. After 2014, Jobbik took a moderate turn, mitigating anti-EU and anti-Euro propaganda, but maintaining the concepts of the Catholic and nationalist right. The change of strategy is also the result that in Hungary, Jobbik is the first opposition force to Fidesz and it is necessary that the two conservative parties differ from each other to continue to increase their number of voters.

These differences disappear on the “great common enemy” George Soros: Jobbik and Fidesz have in common the propaganda against the Hungarian-American magnate, considered a liberal-progressive. The two parties, carrying joint evidences, have also tried to open investigations by the National Investigation Office (NNI) on the fact that Soros, with its Open Society Foundation, endangers the national security of Hungary.

At the same time the Polish system makes the choice between the parties a little more varied, but the government has “Law and Justice” (Pis), a right-wing party with clerical and Eurosceptic conservative vocations. As in the case of Orbàn’s Hungary, today in Poland the emphasis on public security policies is very strong, while individual rights are completely abandoned. The protest of Polish women for the right to abortion is just one example of the kind of policies carried out by these parties. In the European Parliament, the Pis is among the founders of the political group “ECR”, where it expresses its ideas on how to curb European integration, preferring to maintain the current status quo.

The European Union has to face some problems with Hungary and Poland, related to the rule of law and its sustaining, freedoms and civil rights are in some cases questioned and some laws that are promulgated in these countries are openly contrasted with the values adopted by the European Union. The two governing parties are on the rise, strong in their countries and ready to bring their ideas to the European Parliament, already in the 2019 elections, probably in greater numbers than in the past. This remains to be considered the moderate face of the European’s right wing parties, the face that is closer to the values of our democracies.

France and Austria: the great “defeats”

Marine Le Pen, who lost the run-off in France, and Norbert Hofer, who lost the run-off in Austria, failed to reach governmental offices in their given countries. The ballot system has ‘saved’ these two countries from the possibility that right-wing populists access to power. In France especially, Macron has won the election by collecting the votes of all pro-system parties and most of the anti-fascists who did not want Le Pen to the government.

The example of the Front National shows how the transformation of parties from the extreme right in parties that call themselves nationalist, sovereign and Eurosceptic, but no longer speak of the previous ideological roots, lead to the exponential growth of consensus. Marine Le Pen declares today to be « third pole, neither right nor left« , but we know that the roots were those of neo-fascist nationalism as suggested by the party’s symbol: a tricolor flame, which directly recalls the symbol of the Movimento Sociale Italiano, after WWII son of the National Fascist Party of Mussolini.

In France however, the Front National has been downsized, especially thanks to the strongly “winner takes all” electoral system: Macron won the run-off against Le Pen with double of the votes. In Austria however, the independent candidate Van Der Bellen has beaten Norbert Hofer, candidate of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), in the run-off only by a 300,000 votes margin. The positioning of Hofer and his party are recognizable in the extreme right-wing ideologies, strongly opposed to immigration and Islam; it is a nationalist and Eurosceptic party. FPO was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, who had been a minister of the Austrian Nazi government and a member of the SS.

In France and Austria, the possibility of neo-fascist governments was avoided in these elections, but the huge number of votes that parties like FN and FPO obtained are not absolutely reassuring for the democratic hold of the European Union.

Far-right, from north to south across Europe

Besides countries like Poland and Hungary where the far-right is in place in governments, and countries like France and Austria where they lost only in the run-off, in many European countries far-right parties have grown in an impressive manner, becoming important actors in national political scenes and influencing the themes and discussions of public opinion.

In Greece, the country of Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government, Golden Dawn is the third political force of the country since the European elections of 2014. The party freely uses Nazi and Fascist symbols. In addition to Eurosceptic and nationalist ideas, members of Golden Dawn are not afraid of expressing their xenophobic, racist and holocaust denial (negationism) ideas. Members of the party were arrested for violence and some party leaders were also accused of being involved in the murder of the Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

In Germany, the right Eurosceptic, populist and nationalist has had a name since 2013, when Alternative for Germany (AfD) was born. The party has grown in recent years in a steady manner, obtaining 2 million votes to the European elections in 2014 and over 5 million votes in the last national elections in 2017. Even here the ideas are similar to those of the parties already mentioned: they also refer to the reintroduction of the compulsory conscription that in Germany was totally abolished in 2011.

In Slovakia, the People’s Party – Our Slovakia founded in 2010 reached 8% of the vote in 2016, showing exceptional growth. Also in this case, a strong Euroscepticism goes hand in hand with a neo-fascist ideology, anti-immigration and for Slovakia a strong anti-Roma policy. The party recognizes as inspiring charismatic figure Jozef Tiso, Slovakian president during the Second World War and collaborator to Nazis.

In Holland, the Party for Freedom (PVV) was founded in 2006 and with 13% of votes, it is the second party in the Dutch parliament in 2017. Eurosceptic and populist, it has made proposals such as the prohibition of dual citizenship for Dutch parliamentarians and the closure of all mosques in the Netherlands. Islamophobia is in fact one of the cornerstones of their ideology.

In Sweden, the Swedish Democrats (SD) is a party born in 1988 but has had a real increase in consensus in recent years: in 2010, it managed to enter the Swedish Parliament, and in 2014 it managed for the first time to bring two representatives in the European Parliament. They are still growing for the upcoming national elections that will be held in 2018. According to the polls, they could reach 16% of the votes. The ideology is strongly nationalist and Eurosceptic, with the intention of a strong control on security and against immigration.

In Finland and Denmark, the right-wing parties identify themselves as Eurosceptic and nationalist. In these parties there is often an anti-immigration ideology alongside a strong vision of the welfare state for citizens. In the 2015 elections The Finns in Finland exceeded 17% of the vote while the Danish People’s Party reached 21%.

In Italy, at the roots of fascism

Where fascism was born almost 100 years ago, today we have a complex and varied situation. After the Second World War, for a long time the only party to inherit the Italian fascist tragedy was the Italian Social Movement (MSI). The uncomfortable heir of the dictatorship has been confined to the margins of Italian politics for over forty years. It would be only in 1994 that it participated in the first Berlusconi government, dissolved the following year.

Since then the Italian far-right has had many shades as well as many parties, and is gathering more and more consensus, especially in the weaker sections of the population. Today, there are at least two parties in the Italian Parliament that have characteristics similar to those described above. Brothers of Italy (FdI) is the direct descendant of the MSI, a party with intentions of government that is normally allied with the center-right of Berlusconi. Having around the 5% of votes, it is a nationalist and Eurosceptic party, mainly propaganda against immigration and European policies.

The Northern League (LN) is the true novelty of this field, as the new national secretary Matteo Salvini – an MEP – has radically changed the nature of the party. LN was born as an independent party, in favor of the separation of Northern Italy from the South and the “thieving Rome”. The new course of the secretary, Salvini, has instead turned it into a nationalist party, strongly Eurosceptic, anti-immigration and strongly critical of social inclusion of Muslims and the possibility of building mosques. The Northern League has become a national party, although it takes most of the votes always in northern Italy. In Europe it has become one of Marine Le Pen’s main allies, with whom Salvini has become a friend. The enemy is no longer Rome but Brussels, and at the next elections LN could reach 15% of the votes, having the same weight as Silvio Berlusconi’s party.

In Italy however, these two parties can be considered as radical right, but not extreme. The Northern League and Brothers of Italy remain parties fully included in the democratic system and even though radical in their policies, they cannot be considered dangerous for the democratic stability of the country. It is quite different for two smaller but much more extreme formations such as Forza Nuova and Casapound.

The first is linked to a nostalgic fascism and for now has little grip on people, but there have been numerous reports of violence by militants of this party against migrants, NGOs and leftist militants. The second one is in recent years succeeding in various operations that cannot be underestimated by democratic forces. Casapound is finding space room in the weaker sections of the population, in the city suburbs and in many people who have decided not to vote in recent years.

This party can only be defined as a neo-fascist: they are nationalists, they speak of Italian purity; regarding immigration they speak of « invasion », and obviously speak of defending Christian values. The use of religious values is typical of these formations and their propaganda. We need to be worried about them, because they are doing real work in some areas of the city, for example entering schools by involving young people and inviting them to participate in certain political systems, which are really far from the democratic society in which we recognize ourselves.

Although these forces seem far from being able to get votes to enter the Parliament, last year they have witnessed some worrying achievements: in the cities where they were better to put roots they enter into the municipal administrations, obtaining percentages well above the so-called electoral thresholds. They obtain the favor of a part of citizens with social proposals such as social housing (clearly only for Italians), charity and subsistence for those parts of the population in difficulty; but there are also violence and intimidation for those who oppose their methods, how is really well described in the article of the Italian newspaper “L’Espresso”. Moreover, historical revisionism and the reintroduction of fascist gestures and symbolism lead the population to the creation of a positive vision instead of the horror about the Nazi-Fascist dictatorships in Europe.

A dark future for Europe

If all these parties are brought together, it appears that in Europe at least 20% of citizens vote for parties that are considered extreme right-wing, nationalists and Eurosceptic. In addition to these ideologies, these parties seem to revive more and more revisionist ideas from a historical point of view, which revive the ideologies of fascism and Nazism or that do not openly criticize it. Although these parties are different from each other, it seems that there are many points in common and that they can find agreements much more easily than other types of forces at European level.

In the European Parliament we find far-right parties in three political groups: the Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENF), the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and the group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Although the system for creating political groups in the European Parliament is complex and also favors agreements between distant parties in order to create them, in all these three groups we find national parties that correspond to the characteristics described above.

Currently enrolled in these three groups there are 156 deputies, although not all can be considered members of far-right parties. These groups are politically representing a fifth of the European population. Also in the group of Non-Inscrits, we find MEPs such as the three Greeks elected of Golden Dawn, the three elected from the Hungarian Jobbik, and also Jean-Marie Le Pen who kicked out of the Front National for contrasts with his daughter Marine Le Pen. Finally, the last interesting reality is the one of the Hungarian deputies of Fidesz, populist party to the government of Hungary. Because of their catholic nature, they are registered to the European Popular Party, but their anti-immigration and nationalistic positions project them to the extreme right of their popular colleagues from other European countries.

The Fidesz case and other similar ones that we can see in other European countries suggest some tolerance for certain attitudes, all of which create doubts about how these movements can develop. In 2014 they already had 20% of seats in the European Parliament, how many could they get in 2019? But above all, how is it possible that these movements take more and more space in Western democracies?

To all these questions there is not a single answer. Certainly, today’s society is more distant from the one which until a few years ago created a direct relationship between citizens and politics. An emptiness has been created that puts in difficulty the relationship of trust, in this void the entities that work more on the territory and less in the rooms of power find room.

In the hypothesis that these parties still grow, one of the answers that we see in some countries is the pursuit of the far-right on the issues by the other parties normally far from those positions. It is often noted that instead of fighting and explaining the reasons why those positions are not rationally acceptable, we are often faced with an acceptance of those topics of discussion and even a revival of these issues by other parties.

In conclusion, the situation is complex, but the strength of these parties is not yet enough to undermine the democracy of the European Union. However, a change by other parties is necessary to combat these ideologies among the people, with a credible reconstruction of the democratic politics that have marked European history after the Second World War.

Tancredi Marini


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Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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