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The nationalist Right has created a pan-European identity

Italy's Giorgia Meloni and Hungary's Viktor Orbán are key players in Europe's nationalist turn. Credit: Getty

June 11, 2024 - 4:00pm

The Right is on the march across the continent, declared worried liberals and ecstatic conservatives alike as the results of the elections to the European Parliament came through on Sunday night. “No!” say others — the centre held, that is the story, and it was the Greens and the Liberals which performed badly. “No!” comes the reply to this — just look at the results in Scandinavia where the Greens and the Left outperformed expectations. And on and on we go.

But how can all this be true at the same time? Because Europe is large, it contains multitudes. The most straightforward answer is that Europe is not yet a single functioning polity with a single functioning demos stretching over the continent. In Poland, for example, Donald Tusk’s pro-European centrist party performed well with a campaign painting the opposition as soft on Russia. In Italy, meanwhile, the apparently “populist” but pro-Ukrainian Giorgia Meloni triumphed, while in France Marine Le Pen’s Russophile National Rally secured an astonishing victory over Emmanuel Macron.

In one sense, then, the story of European politics is that it remains astonishingly national. Despite the best efforts of reforming federalists over the years, there are no Europe-wide parties for voters to endorse or oppose. Instead, each country elects to the European Parliament its own national parties, reflecting each country’s specific national politics. In Spain and Portugal, for example, there was no significant populist surge, with the old parties of centre-left and centre-right reasserting their dominance at the expense of the new anti-establishment parties which once looked likely to replace them.

Yet, if we peer a little closer at the results over the weekend, it is possible to detect the first real stirrings of a genuine pan-European political mood starting to take hold. The irony, however, is that this is not being driven by the usual pro-European integrationist parties of the past, but is instead being forged by the conservative nationalist parties, many of which began as distinctly Eurosceptic movements critical of Brussels.

And so, while it is true that the traditional establishment blocs — both centre-left or centre-right — in the European Parliament largely held their ground in these elections, there is little doubt that the anti-establishment Right overall is becoming a growing and consistent presence across the continent, sharing common traits including hostility to immigration, Islam and Net Zero, particularly in the original “core” of the EU. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party is entering government; in Germany, the AfD is now the biggest party in the east; in France, Le Pen’s National Rally has become the biggest single party in the European Parliament; and in Italy Meloni is ascendant.

Where once the traditional parties of Europe hoped to quarantine these anti-establishment parties on their Right, today it looks increasingly implausible that such a policy will hold in the long run. The walls between the centre-right and “populist” Right have already started breaking apart nationally, whether in the Netherlands, Austria or Italy. Perhaps they will soon in Britain, too.


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 month ago

The European Nationalist Right: Unity Through Disunity!

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago

Much simpler: E pluribus unum. There is nothing new under the sun.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago

Well, we’ve been forced to live under the ‘Unity in Diversity‘ piety for quite some time now.

So trying ‘Unity Through Disunity‘ could be worth a go.

The same.

Only different.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

The old ‘left’ / ‘right’ dichotomy doesn’t work anymore. The ‘left’ is not working class and the ‘right’ isn’t capitalist; the ‘right’ doesn’t defend property rights, the ‘left’ doesn’t attack them. In fact the ‘left’ actively promotes policies that reward the owners of assets at the expense of those who don’t.

We need a new language to describe the factions engaged in this new class war.

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

We need a new language to describe the factions engaged in this new class war.
.
This is exactly what progressives seek to avoid at all costs.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I agree but I think this is temporary and has more to do with narrative constructors being disproportionately Left-Socialists that think dialectically or alchemically.

The Right is currently defined by its vocal opposition to mass immigration, global centralism and preference for National control. The Radical Left or Woke Left gets alot of ink but the standard Left is almost never defined. It’s as if they just melded into the Center and became “the reasonable people.”

Once opposition to globalism and mass immigration hits a critical mass the old lines between large (Left) and small (Right) National governments will likely reappear into a more clear binary. At that time the narrative constructors like Fazi and McTague will have won the battle to install larger, more centralized National governments.

To steal from James Lindsay…And so the dialectic progresses.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  T Bone

I suspect what you say about “the Right” as it is presently constituted is correct, but it wasn’t that long ago that “the Right” was in favour of “globalization”, in the sense of having global supply chains, and manufacturing things where it was most cost-effective to do so. Reagan and Thatcher were in favour of that sort of thing, and they were of “the Right” as that term was used at the time.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

I don’t know they they were “for it” as much as not believing in imposing tariffs to stop a private company from moving operations overseas. Clinton is the one that signed NAFTA which really shifted operations.

Globalization isn’t all bad. It brings down prices across the board. You could argue that if a few companies like Walmart couldn’t buy foreign goods in such bulk and undercut everybody else than more small retailers could operate. Monopolies usually end up driving inflationary wage hikes because “Pro-labor” elements of our Governments cut deals with them. The companies either unionize or increase wages in response to PR campaigns or minimum wage laws. Then they pass those costs onto consumers as they’re doing everywhere. See California.

So there’s a Monopolization question that could probably offset the Globalization. Big Labor favors Monopolies. It’s hard to unionize in an economy dominated by small shopkeepers and businesses of 50 or less.

Victor James
Victor James
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It’s very simple. Those on the right must create their own narratives and press ahead, ignoring the cries of the fascist left, and reframing them as gutter dwelling fascists, which is what they have become anyway.
The left is anti-white, anti-European civilisation, anti-democratic. It is a closed, fearful ideology that has captured the institutions. But despite this, it still needs a fascistic ‘hate speech’ inquisition to defend itself from those who oppose it.
In other words, what they call others is what they are. Once the right understands this, it will lose its inhibitions.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The left and right classification never really worked. It might have once worked in the context of Revolutionary France where the traditional royalist supporters sat on the right and as you moved round the representatives became increasingly anti-royalist and revolutionary. But in more modern times the policies of the National Socialist German Workers Party certainly did not represent conservative opinion except perhaps in its emphasis upon German Nationalism and was certainly no supporter of laissez-faire capitalism. Similarly Communism while certainly anti-capitalist was in practice an autocratic oligarchy that failed to benefit the workers as a whole.

I am not sure the left in fact aims to reward those who own assets except that the effect of high levels of immigration suppress waged and inflate the value of scarce assets like property.

The Labour Party is the party of those whose wages rely on the population being coerced to pay for their services rather than freely choosing to pay for them out of a choice of providers. The more goods and services become monopolistic (which government services invariably are) the more the discipline that the market provides to deliver what people actually want at a reasonable price breaks down and the providers are able to provide the level of service that they want to provide without reference to the preferences of the public. Of course plenty of services have by their nature a certain natural monopoly and this will be exploited whether publicly or privately owned.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Good thinking. What are you suggesting?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

“Europe is not yet a single functioning polity with a single functioning demos stretching over the continent.” Nor never will be. The League of Nations and the countless empires before should have taught us. The EU is trying to teach us again, but in the end we will never accept the yoke. The Other will always remain so for all the high-minded rhetoric and bureaucratic fiddling in the world.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

That “yet” in Tom McTague’s article was indeed redundant.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I thought the “yet” was a bit sinister.

William Brand
William Brand
1 month ago

The Greens got into trouble by adding the WOKE uni-cause to their platform. What has Gay and Trans liberation and the plight of Hamas Palestinians to do with worries about CO2 in the atmosphere or global warming. Nothing except in the minds of WOKE partizans. Many Right-wing types worry about the Earth. The added issues to the green platform caused Green to lose their votes.

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 month ago
Reply to  William Brand

The left did this in an attempt to grow the base of support for each of these things with “allies”.

They created an “Omnicause” while at the same time developing a code that tolerates no dissent from any of the tenants of any of the underlying causes. In other words, you cannot be an ally of eliminating CO2 if you do not support puberty blockers for teens. You are all in on all of them or out.

But you are going to have conflicts among those groups eventually.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  William Brand

Thank you. Exactly.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

Where once the traditional parties of Europe hoped to quarantine these anti-establishment parties on their Right, today it looks increasingly implausible that such a policy will hold in the long run.”
The traditional parties could still do this – but it would mean seriously addressing the issues that are driving moderate voters to choose “populist” parties instead of just ignoring those issues (Islamism, immigration, implementing green policies too quickly/with a lack of pragmatism/without properly explaining them and their costs etc.)

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

If you can’t beat them join them usually works.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
1 month ago

In shocking news, it turns out the people of Europe are not one big homogeneous block!

Is it possible that the countries that are experiencing the most Islamist tension are the ones stepping right?

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 month ago

Socially liberal capitalists took over the left. They brought with them the university professors.

Everyone else got left on the right.