by Ralph Schoellhammer
Friday, 28
October 2022
Analysis
07:00

Will Europe’s Right-wing populists disappoint again?

The next five years will be a test for conservatives on the continent
by Ralph Schoellhammer
Giorgia Meloni is the latest Right-wing populist to win power this year. Credit: Getty

The recent news cycle has been dominated by the election successes of Right-wing parties in Europe, from the Sweden Democrats to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

But something is afoot in other countries as well. Driven by farmers’ protests in the Netherlands, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) that was barely scraping 1% of the vote in the last election is now polling neck-and-neck for second place with Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom. Similarly in Germany, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) is making a strong showing in the polls, rising by 5% to 15%.

The question, however, is whether or not these parties have any capability to rule once they are in government. ‘Right-wing’ has become such a broad term that it often blinds us to the significant differences among right-of-centre European parties.

The most interesting case might be Sweden, which just a few days ago formed its new government. Officially, the ruling coalition consists of the so-called Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals. The Sweden Democrats — despite being the second largest party after the Social Democratic Party — are not officially part of the government. But they are the ones who can provide the needed votes for everything the new prime minister Ulf Kristersson wants to accomplish.

They have already driven a hard bargain under the leadership of Jimmie Akesson — both symbolically and practically. On the symbolic front, Sweden has given up calling its conduct in international affairs “feminist foreign policy,” an obvious nod to the anti-woke agenda of the Sweden Democrats. On more practical issues, the country will cut its refugee quota from 5,000 people to 900 per year, reduce international aid, and introduce identity checks to limit illegal immigration. There is also a push for a major crackdown on criminal gangs, including the right of the government to deport foreign individuals for being a gang member. Additionally, for the first time in 35 years, the new government in Stockholm will not have an environment ministry, moving its agendas to the ministry for “Energy, Business, and Industry.”

Over in Italy, Giorgia Meloni has just been sworn in as the country’s first female Prime Minister. Despite the overblown fears of the return of fascism, it is as yet unclear what to expect of the new government. Meloni is obviously a cultural conservative, but Italy’s problems go beyond cultural decline. It is one of the most heavily indebted countries in Europe, and its economy has to a significant extent been held up by actions of the European Central Bank.

Limiting immigration will be a key element, and together with the somewhat vague desire for a neo-Renaissance in the arts, her government is much less populist than the mainstream media would have us believe. She has come out as an ardent supporter of NATO, Italy’s EU membership, and in matters related to the environment even the green parties of Europe might be envious: Meloni wants tariffs on products originating outside the EU that do not live up to certain environmental standards, and in energy questions she wants programmes that encourage “virtuous behaviours” in regard to energy savings. The new government even intends to promote dietary habits to convince people to consume more locally produced food and fewer imported goods.

This stands in stark contrast to the Dutch Right-wing leader Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom. Although he also opposes immigration, particularly from Islamic countries, he is an economic liberal who is critical of the welfare state and high taxation. Wilders is also improving in the polls, together with the Farmer Citizen Movement which is surging due to the ongoing conflict between the government’s environmental goals and the agricultural sector.

The problem many populist Right-wing parties in Europe still have is that too often they are perceived as mere protest groups, channelling the desire of voters to punish other parties, without executing any serious programme. Nevertheless, the examples of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary and the Law and Justice Party in Poland show that it is possible to effect significant change once in office.

It is too soon to tell where the European Right will ultimately go, but one thing is for sure: the issues on which they are campaigning are going to become more, not less, prominent in political life. Whoever can capture them the best will be handsomely rewarded at the ballot box.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
9 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

The ‘populist’ / ‘right’ movements in Europe are increasing not diminishing, despite their failures.
It seems clear that they are slowly but surely prevailing.
They have one big advantage over the ‘left’ they talk in the main the language of the electorate … ‘commonsense’

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Calhoun
AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

The question, however, is whether or not these parties have any capability to rule once they are in government.

I think this is an incorrect assertion. In circumstances where you could ask of any party if they have any capability to rule (in the UK: Conservatives, Labour, Green, SNP, Reform, Lib Dems, etc.) it seems to be merely political argumentation to point that question at ‘populist movements’. Indeed you could ask a different question – how have traditional parties drifted away from popular support?

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
1 month ago

“the country will cut its refugee quota from 5,000 people to 900 per year, …”
That really jumped out at me. The US southern border sees more than 5000 illegal aliens enter PER DAY.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

I really dislike the term ‘populist’ as it seems to be used as a smear only against people who win elections that are right wing. Are left wingers who win elections also called populist? No.

But writers like this who use the term ‘populist’ are collaborating in the media smear that it’s ok for left wing people to appeal to the most people with policies they’ll like and vote for and they won’t be called populist; whilst it’s not ok for right wing people to have policies that appeal to the majority because, the implication is, for right wingers this is the dog whistle politics of bigotry.

Do we need to have such a prejudiced smear used in Unherd articles?

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

Any indebted EU country is constrained by what the market and Brussels will allow. Brussels is currently planning to sanction the people of Hungry by withholding funds because the government has passed legislation to limit trans ideology propaganda entering the country a fairly popular policy. Neither the market or the EU has any interest in enforcing the sort of policies that might actually gain widespread support.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Are they always likely to disappoint because the contradiction between many Right-wing populist ideas and the fact often these programmes/parties have suspicious, non-transparent funding sources that exist to protect the wealthy, inevitably start to clash.
Ever tried to donate to a number of the organisations occupying 55 Tufton st? V difficult, which suggests they aren’t short of funds and have other ways and means no need to tell the proles about. Much the same I understand in a number of these movements across Europe.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

The various deep states have been able up to now to brush off what the far-left media call “far-right” political movements, but perhaps times are genuinely changing as average people begin putting leaders in office who represent their fears of being overwhelmed by illegal immigrants and 7th Century ideas of culture and government.

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago

From what i’ve read and seen Meloni has already gone back on from the platform she stood on. She has stated no more va x pass and some things about abortion but has turned pro EU.

M. M.
M. M.
1 month ago

Ralph Schoellhammer wrote, “Limiting immigration will be a key element, and together with the somewhat vague desire for a neo-Renaissance in the arts, her government is much less populist than the mainstream media would have us believe. She has come out as an ardent supporter of NATO …”

That is a betrayal of the populists who voted for Giorgia Meloni and is a grave error in judgment.

By 2040, the United States will cease being a Western nation, due to open borders. By 2040, most Americans will reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture will dominate. In California, 40% of the residents are currently Hispanic. Most residents of the state already reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture dominates.

Italy will remain a Western nation after the United States ceases to be one. Safeguarding the future of Italy requires that Meloni begin distancing Italy from the United States. That includes exiting the American security architecture, of which NATO is a central component.

Italy (along with Hungary and Poland) can act more independently of the European Union if Meloni fixes the problems in the Italian economy and boosts its efficiency up to the level of the German economy. A strong economy would allow Meloni to sever Italian dependence on the financial support of the European Union.

If Meloni is genuinely Christian, then she will fulfill her promises to the populist voters who supported her and her political allies.

Get more info about this issue.