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2024 is the year of the New Right Europe's populists are on the cusp of real power

Geert Wilders and Tom van Grieken smiling for the camera. (Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Geert Wilders and Tom van Grieken smiling for the camera. (Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)


January 8, 2024   5 mins

Of the torrent of elections scheduled throughout the world this year, the most transformative promises to span an entire continent. In all of the 27 nations which constitute the European Union, and which will ask their citizens to vote for EU parliamentarians in early June, at least one New or far-Right party is now active. In several (Finland, Italy, Slovakia, Sweden), they form part of a coalition government of the Right. In three (Hungary, Italy, Slovakia), they lead the government.

And, if 2023 closed with the surprise victory of Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the year ahead promises much of the same. The Austrian Freedom Party is by some way the country’s most popular, and thus likely to win the parliamentary election in the autumn. In Belgium, which holds parliamentary elections in June, the New Right Vlaams Belang currently seems likely to win the election in Flanders, the larger and richer of the country’s two regions, while it also leads the overall polling. Both it and its closest rival, the New Flemish Alliance, seek independence from Belgium to form a separate Flemish state.

The symbolism of the rise of the New Right, in the state which hosts the European Union’s own capital, cannot be missed. But the same holds across the EU’s other lynchpin nations. Even Emmanuel Macron is said to believe that it will be Marine Le Pen who will wave from the steps of the ElysĂ©e Palace in 2027. In Germany, the Alternative fĂŒr Deutschland continues its climb, and the cordon sanitaire around mainstream collaboration with the party is likely to be breached this year. The AfD are certainly game: in a talk last month with Norbert Kleinwaechter, deputy leader of the party’s Bundestag grouping, I was told that “there is not so much difference between the CDU’s programme and ours”. In many German states — especially in the east, where the AfD is the strongest party — members of mainstream parties and the New Right have (as yet unofficial) dealings. As in Sweden, parliamentary arithmetic cannot be ignored forever and the centre-right will need the New Right if it is to govern.

Here we are seeing the EU’s darkest nightmare of populist insurgency made flesh. France and Germany have, for decades, underpinned a leadership which has projected a commitment to “ever closer union”, and sought energetically to realise it in practice. But while few of these New Right movements seek secession from the EU, their collective policy might be understood as “never closer”, effectively tearing the rhetorical heart out of the supernational project. If the New Right is successful, the EU itself will find itself commensurately, possibly terminally, enfeebled.

This is one of the most important continental trends of the century so far. In most commentary and reporting on the subject in the West and other democracies, it is regarded as an unspeakable political disaster, opening a space for the possibility of authoritarian governance everywhere. The preferred position is reflexive: to assume these parties are continuing to act as vehicles for an extremism which hides beneath their apparent commitment to democracy. Yet such an approach — with constant references to fascist or Nazi roots, which many of these parties do have — does little, ironically, to hold them to account. It is more than time to treat them as we do Left-wing parties in Italy, Germany, Portugal and Sweden with communist roots, as well as all others lacking totalitarian connections: to discount the most obvious slurs, and instead attempt to understand, clarify and critique their policies and rhetoric. Only this way can we understand the true nature of the New Right, and what its continuing rise this year will augur.

For instance, many of these organisations embrace economic and social policies commonly found in the programmes of social-democratic parties, which sit alongside their Euroscepticism, opposition to the rough end of globalisation and support for families. But within this field they vary widely. The two parties which surged into government in September 2022 — the Sweden Democrats and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia — explicitly favour national and social conservatism, derived from the British Right, with the late Sir Roger Scruton as the presiding inspiration. Both parties support Ukraine, are pro-Nato (though Sweden is still impeded from joining because of a Turkish veto), and are socially moderate.

By contrast, the far-Right parties of central and Eastern Europe tend towards a harsher, even insurgent, political approach, in part reflecting the more recent post-communist adoption of parliamentary democracy and liberal institutions. The Bulgarian Vazrazhdane (Revival) is the standout party here, growing rapidly from its founding in 2014 to the third-largest party in parliament in the 2023 elections. It, by contrast, is pro-Russian, anti-American, opposed aid to Ukraine, and hostile to gay rights. In June last year, a group of protestors, reportedly led by a Vazrazhdane deputy, stormed a screening of the Belgian film Close, about an intimate friendship between two teenage boys.

A powerful, various and aggressive movement of this kind needs close scrutiny. But most importantly, it needs to be clear why across Europe so many millions of citizens in the working and lower-middle classes, the larger part of whom had historically voted for parties of the Left, now give their vote to the New Right. This growing constituency can no longer be dismissed as “deplorables” or “bigoted”. It is from these bases especially that the greatest support comes for a recasting of society, combatting what the American philosopher Michael Sandel calls the scorn of the “credentialed classes”, who have turned the concept of meritocracy into a system which “attributes deservingness to the successful”.

In most of the New Right parties, this leaning towards working-class concerns rests first and foremost on their opposition to mass immigration. Indeed, their first burst of support in the 2010s was generated by their taking this position, even as the traditional parties of Left and Right continued to broadly support the free flow of labour and generous refugee programmes. If the European New Right has developed one shared concern, this is it. At the same time (and partly as a result), the parties of the left — Labour, Socialist, Social-Democratic — were increasingly losing working-class members and acquiring middle-class, upwardly mobile, socially very liberal replacements.

This phenomenon is not novel to Europe, and was most prominently visible in the US, where the Donald Trump-inspired MAGA movement received the largest backing from members of communities hit by industrial decline. But the New Right and Trump are not analogous. The MAGA movement is, at least potentially, more insurrectionist than most of its European counterparts and it remains, mainly thanks to the unpredictable figure of Trump, more extreme. Most of the European parties have tended to moderate their programmes as they gain or approach power, with Giorgia Meloni as the case-in-point. Trump’s movement, by contrast, revolves around his maverick political persona, one which unfoundedly trumpets claims of electoral fraud, speaks of illegal immigrants as “poisoning the blood” of America, and threatens a one-day dictatorship if and when he wins the election this year.

It is precisely this relative moderation by the European New Right, and their growing proximity to power, that make closer reporting now essential. What they are against is clear; how they will deliver is not. More than the established parties, they play on their status as being new and unsullied by compromise. If the New Right cannot deliver on its promises for root and branch restructuring of politics, it will falter. This new year will therefore be the real beginning of their largest test — both of the democratic bodies they claim to be and of the policies they assert will transform their countries.


John Lloyd is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and is writing a book on the rise of the New Right in Europe.


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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago

The author says the MAGA movement is potentially more insurrectionist than most of its European counterparts and it remains more extreme. Where does this come from? 70 million people voted for Trump. Are they more extreme because about 0.1% were involved in a riot Jan. 6? Are they extreme because Trump says stupid stuff all the time? Are the Dems extreme because a small percentage burned cities to the ground in 2020? Or because four Dem judges in Colorado will gladly subvert democracy?

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I imagine that the author would say that the MAGA movement is more insurrectionist because it has already attempted an insurrection.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

This is silly of course. An insurrection requires guns and planning.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Even ‘riot’ is quite an extreme word when one considers what went on there.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

Just the cold blooded murder of a white activist, by a Black policeman, in other words just a normal day in the good old USA.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago

I see Ashli Babbitt’s family have just filed a $30M lawsuit against the Capitol Police for her killing.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Excellent!
I wish them the very best of British luck.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
4 months ago

The 200+ federal agents provocateur who were sent in with the crowd were there to create the riot.
As some wit recently said, insurrections don’t have tour guides.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

Those 200+ Federal agents should be executed for Treason.
You still execute don’t you?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
4 months ago

Not me personally, but I do have a list.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
4 months ago

Best comment of 2024.

Jane H
Jane H
4 months ago

You’re absolutely right there. The Epoch Times have released hours of unseen video footage of exactly what happened that day. It was a set up.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Remember when a load of activists stormed the Senate Judicial Committee hearings for Brett Kavanaugh? Remember when they blockaded Senators in their offices and harassed them in elevators? Was that an “insurrection”? I get confused.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

It’s only an insurrection when the Dems and regime media tells us so. Otherwise, it’s a mostly peaceful protest.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes that’s how it looks from England

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

An insurrection has violence at its core. Not an unarmed protest.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

How many guns are in circulation in the US?

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

The first supposed insurrection I’ve ever seen with guided tours

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Polite guided tours.

Kat L
Kat L
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

That was not an insurrection no matter how many times you repeat it, sorry.

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Anyone who thinks that Europe’s “New Right” is more “moderate” than MAGA understands neither America, nor Europe.

Chris Maille
Chris Maille
4 months ago
Reply to  Pat Davers

For the sake of Europe, let’s hope so !

Carol Moore
Carol Moore
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good point

David McKee
David McKee
4 months ago

I agree, Mr. Lloyd, these electoral insurgents need to be treated seriously. The days when the words “far right” would be enough to scare off the voters are over.

What explains their rise? I think it’s because, increasingly, electing a conventional opposition party into government changes nothing. Elections, especially in the EU where Brussels has grabbed so much power, have become shams.

The voters have woken up to this. So, quite rationally, they vote for unconventional opposition parties. Will this produce the changes the voters crave? And if not, what will the voters do next?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

The rise of populism stems from not only the incompetence of our current ruling elite, but the ideological uniformity of traditional political parties. We see that in Britain today, the U.S. prior to Trump, Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. Voters have not been given a choice between competing policy and ideological positions. The X factor IMO is the bureaucracy and unelected institutions like the judiciary and NGOs.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The article mentions ‘populist’ once and doesn’t explain why – merely that the parties are anti-EU. Why have you used the p-word?
To me, ‘populist’ implies not serious or even not important – a sort of joke. This is how the Left is trying to steer voters away from the Right, by throwing in words which demean the aims of the parties.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago

The word ‘populist’ is lazy journalism.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Voters have not been given a choice between competing policy and ideological positions.
People have become so tribal that they refuse to realize how true that statement is. In the US, real differences between right and left are limited to abortion and guns. Spending rises under both. Wars are waged under both, with the exception of Trump. Immigration had been relatively constant under both Biden blew that up. The politics of Team have subsumed any politics of good ideas here.

Doug Israel
Doug Israel
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

We will probably find out. My guess is ultimately the people of Europe will not meekly support their own suicide.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
4 months ago
Reply to  Doug Israel

I very much hope that we won’t! It is absolutely no surprise that parties belonging to the New Right are experiencing a surge in popularity, and I predicted this back in 2015, when Germany’s Merkel, the leader of a supposedly centre-right party, single-handedly destabilised Europe. The rise in terrorist attacks, rapes, and the general sense of alienation one feels in many European cities was entirely predictable, and did not go unnoticed by Mr and Ms Voter despite the efforts of the Left supported by the migrant industry (NGOs and charities that lined their pockets) and the media to malign and silence critical voices.

I have Austrian citizenship through my mum, and I plan to vote in Austria; my ballot will be used to send a clear message to Brussels and its apparatchiks!

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

Europe does differ from America though, in that the parties on the far-Right are generally “new” parties, or at the very least parties which have not previously tasted significant electoral success. In the US, the far-Right has taken over an existing Centre-Right party (the GOP).

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

I think it would be more accurate to say that the term “far-right” has taken over the existing term “centre-right”.

Danny D
Danny D
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

No, the new far-right parties certainly deserve the label. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to think of far-left as harmless and well-intentioned and far-right as violent and cruel. Though that will hopefully change now that the pendulum is at its full momentum. I’m just praying for these parties to actually change things for the better and expose the academic and bureaucratic class for the destroyers of Western civilization that they are.

David Renton
David Renton
4 months ago
Reply to  Danny D

the far right hasn’t done any damage, it’s the usual suspects the far left, the ones that are responsible for 100’s of millions of deaths in the 20th century.
the ‘far right’ will have to save society from these people as usual. the far left is toxic, destructive, racist and the real problem.
If Europe is to become Far right, so be it, it’s not a fear most Europeans have
If it means a working society, limited immigration, the end of islamist fascism in the west, an end to racist leftist policies, seems a win win.

I just wonder where the left will hide, as America and Europe will not be a place for them

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

In what way has the “far-Right” taken over anything in the US? Is there some far-Right legislation you can point to to support this argument? Because even deeply red states are something less than the totalitarian marshes of leftist talking points.

David Renton
David Renton
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

the GOP isn’t far right, Trump isn’t, but i tell you one thing the person who succeeds trump will be. When the DNC is actively destroying democracy, encouraging insurgency, then the right will react to that, and the left will have no where to go. The system they are so keen to dismantle, protects the left, not the right.
When that system is so broken, the right will be unburdened by ‘society’ rule of law, democratic norms.

The left won’t have a Europe to run to, or Australia, maybe they can move to GAZA with their pals, Islamists Fascists who just love ‘progressives’ 🙂

Ron Kean
Ron Kean
4 months ago

A couple of decades ago Israel gave Gaza to Muslim Arabs in a land for peace experiment. Israel thought the Arabs would appreciate the gesture and reciprocate with peaceful coexistence. That didn’t happen because it was wrongly assumed in these modern times people think alike and kindness would be repaid with kindness.
Who started the world migrant mess? Was it truly altruistic? Was it a cynical ploy to replace the middle class with a more pliable constituency? Was it a combination or was it really the latter?
Between 1880 and 1920 2 million Jews and 2 million Italians immigrated to the United States. In the beginning there were gangsters but after a while assimilation took place as the children of immigrants were taught love of country and the Constitution.
Can anyone imagine children of the new migrants assimilating like that? Those who believe the altruistic motive may. Give them a chance. They’ll come around and repay kindness with kindness. They’ll see how society works, contribute, sacrifice and become good Frenchmen, Swedes, Americans, etc. in a generation or so.
Probably not. Sharia will continue to war with Biblical and Constitutional Law. Those who came from places with little, corrupt or no government will think every place is like that so you’re on your own. Criminals, subversives or just plain crazy people will be themselves. Liberals will think they can use them but the monster will and is turning on Dr. Frankenstein.
Educated citizens and there are many see they have one last chance to regain control. At least they or we appreciate our heritage enough to try to regain or cement it back into place. As long as there’s one more fair election, as long as there is still power in our numbers, as long as there’s still a semblance of law and order that democratic nations still possess we must use it and the Right looks to be the only way.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Ron Kean

You forget to mention the Irish!
From this “ sceptered isle” it does appear that both the Jews (Kosher Nostra) and the Irish ( NORAID-Kennedy Clan) have a fatal stranglehold over US politics.
Where did the Italians go wrong? With the exception of Nancy Pelosi* where are they?

(* In reality an honorary member of Kosher Nostra.)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

The only time in recorded history that the US Capitol has seen anything approaching real violence was on that wonderful night of Wednesday the 24th of August 1814 when the British Army burnt the place to the ground, along with the White House and other Public buildings.
MAGA will have to ‘up its game’ if it is to challenge that truly epic event.

David Renton
David Renton
4 months ago

it was a beautiful night, maybe that and the Summer Palace, which a Beijing taxi driver the minute found i was British , harassed me about, well my Chinese GF , and i just smirked 🙂

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
4 months ago

Member states can’t “secede” from the EU, it is not a sovereign state. They can withdraw from it.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
4 months ago

I agree that much of the responsibility for the rise of new-right parties rests with the left, who have increasingly become allied with neoliberalism. A few leaders on the left, such as Sara Wagenknecht in Germany, have recently tried to correct this trend, but they may be too late to stop the rot.

A D Kent
A D Kent
4 months ago

“If the New Right cannot deliver on its promises for root and branch restructuring of politics, it will falter.”

So it will faulter – Italy’s already has. See Thomas Fazi’s writings elsewhere here for why they have and the rest will. None will have the courage to offer their citizens a referendum on EU membership – not least because now they know it’s possible to lose such things (I’m not convinced it ever crossed Cameron’s mind that he’d lose ours).

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

There is a big difference and that is the Euro. Well done the UK for keeping their own currency.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

The Euro will of course be the end of the EU. A monetary union of budgetary sovereign states cannot work in the long run.

j watson
j watson
4 months ago

Yep it’s not quite the Populist Right in the old sense, but more a Populist Social Democrat/low immigration movement. That’ll please some and annoy others.
Of course once in power leaders have to move from rhetoric to reality fast and that may prove as difficult in Europe as the Tories found things post Brexit. As Author states this doesn’t mean the EU implodes, but rather changes some of it’s direction. That may be no bad thing in some areas. Obviously a cosying up to Putin though would be v worrying but by way of an example, Meloni not exactly done that – full throated supporter of Ukraine.
Trump of course riding similar wave in US. Contradictions will unravel once in power. He’s not really got a policy platform has he. The guy’s a lying Grifter and he’ll spend most of his time chasing revenge. Within a year he’ll be a lame duck and US will have a crisis in Government for 3 years, the repercussions of which will affect all. And this is probably the best scenario if he wins.

Kat L
Kat L
4 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I don’t know, a little retribution is in order to stop further shenanigans by the left. What they did to undermine his first time round needs to be answered for in the harshest manner legally possible imo.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  j watson

All he wanted to do was make America great again. Personally, I would prefer to vote for a man everybody hates than for a party that hates me for my sex and skin color.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago

There are three regions in Belgium: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

Here we are seeing the EU’s darkest nightmare of populist insurgency made flesh.
My, my; so much pearl-clutching. At least the author dips a toe into the question that is usually avoided: Did the non-far-right wing of politician do anything, anything at all, to cause ordinary Europeans to be skeptical about their govts?
Immigration is a glaring, obvious issue and treating people like second class citizens of their own countries no longer cuts it. Funny how this democracy thing works, isn’t it. The American left waxes endlessly about “saving” it, as if contested elections are a threat to the franchise. No, the rise of parties that oppose the status quo is how democracy works. When the incumbents’ ideas fail, challengers will emerge.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
4 months ago

Interesting piece until the author reflexively started parroting the US Left’s rote intentional mischaracterization and distortion of Trump and the MAGA movement, which supposedly: “unfoundedly trumpets claims of electoral fraud, speaks of illegal immigrants as ‘poisoning the blood‘ of America, and threatens a one-day dictatorship.”

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago

In June last year, a group of protestors, reportedly led by a Vazrazhdane deputy, stormed a screening of the Belgian film Close, about an intimate friendship between two teenager boys
————
It seems that I have become a squeamish old man, because the very thought of a film about the love between two homosexual teenagers makes me confidently suspect the film’s authors of pedophilia

Kat L
Kat L
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Yah you can tell by the author’s language that he’s a full on leftist. Intimate friendship??!!?

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  Kat L

Maybe there is an even more accurate definition: “deep leftist”

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
4 months ago

2023 closed with the surprise victory of Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party

Only a surprise to the blinkered blob.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

Thank you for pointing that out. Almost every publication I read about Wilders used the term ‘shock’ election victory. At the time I wondered how anyone could be shocked. Anyone with a shred of intelligence should have seen this coming.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Indeed! I am rather surprised that it took this long, but not once was I shocked or surprised by this development. I have been expecting this since 2015, and am applauding the people who have finally turned their frustration into electoral action.

Kat L
Kat L
4 months ago

I don’t know what he’s referring to about Meloni, she’s being derided as a fraud and a failure by her constituents; they have a point.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 months ago

I don’t think it’s so much a move to the Right as an electorate thoroughly fed up with the incumbents. Which would explain why Britain is seemingly moving to the Left.

David Renton
David Renton
4 months ago

i don’t think the UK is moving to the left, all the parties have, and resulted in a despondent majority who have no place to go. What happens when you ignore the majority where there is not even a centre right party. It ends badly .
The UK like Europe will go further right, why shouldn’t they, the left offers them nothing.
People are fed up with being called racists, having their rights stripe from them, having to accommodate intolerance from the east

People 20 years ago, then the left decided to go to war against them for who they are. This is a fight the left doesn’t win, it cannot succeed it it’s base is radical students and islamists.

Arek Stryjski
Arek Stryjski
4 months ago

And it also explain last election in Poland where pro EU liberal centre-right replaced populist and conservative centre-right.
People hated inflation and high credit rates and are punishing incumbents.

Alexander van de Staan
Alexander van de Staan
4 months ago

.

Tad Pringle
Tad Pringle
4 months ago

The ‘unfoundedly trumpets claims of electoral fraud’ stuff is surely just willful ignorance by now?

Rex Adams
Rex Adams
4 months ago
Reply to  Tad Pringle

Can you refer to evidence of this fraud on the electorate?

Hit
Hit
4 months ago

I certainly hope the right takes control in 2024. But I am conservative, and that makes me very pessmistic. But I do think leftist are already susceptible to having sympathy for people who make bad decisions, and since they can vote, it will lead to the downfall of society.