Nationalists Rise in Europe

The growing influence of far-right nationalist groups in Europe grips the continent’s political landscape, as its people react to their social and economic frustrations. Although previously acknowledged as “fringe” groups, after the most recent European parliamentary election, nationalist parties have gained significant ground. By stressing hostility to the EU and immigration from African and the Middle East, these groups have become more and more appealing to those skeptical of the EU’s involvement in national affairs. Right-wing nationalist parties have made 

impressive gains in France, Great Britain, Austria, Denmark, and Greece. 

This nationalism did not emerge overnight. Decades of immigration from developing countries have threatened the idea of a mono-ethnic society in Europe. Further impairing the EU’s reputation is the over half-decade-long economic crisis and subsequent austerity measures, which have led to immensely high levels of unemployment and low or negative economic growth. Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), strives to delegitimize the European Union because of the “fundamentally undemocratic nature of a supranational political organization” acting with “unaccountable broad reaching legislative powers.” 

European conservatives have long held anti-European Union beliefs. However, ethnic nationalism in the 1930s damaged the reputation of European conservatives. Nations wary of overzealous nationalism restricted their own elected governments in favor of an international legislature. However, contemporary social and economic distress has allowed for right-wing politicians to gain ground in national legislatures and the European Parliament. The rise of the right in Europe indicates that the effect of the Long European War, from 1914 to 1989, is over. 

The opposition to the EU is a worthy cause that unfortunately has been embraced by radical political parties that also maintain xenophobic and anti-Semitic platforms. As a result of the EU’s unpopularity, extremist nationalist groups have gained broad support. In Greece, the Golden Dawn Party, whose logo invokers the swastika, won 9.4 percent of the vote, despite openly identifying of racist. In Hungary, as well, the anti-Semitic Jobbik Party earned 14.7 percent in the recent European parliamentary election. 

Although the 21st century version of ethnic nationalism is a diluted version of that which devastated Europe 60 years ago, it still causes much social tension in nations with high ethnic diversity. In France, for example, the National Front, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, has gained popularity among disgruntled French citizens. Le Pen’s nationalist platform has emphasized its disdain for the European Union and called for a halt on immigration from Arab countries, specifically Libya and Tunisia. In the recent European parliamentary election the National Front made sweeping gains, boasting more voter support than the two other major parties with 26 percent. The rise of the National Front represents a nationalist reaction among French citizens seeking to maintain the Franco-cultural values of France. 

UKIP has denounced the “blood and soil” nationalism of extremist parties, ruling out any alignment with the National Front. Instead, UKIP has stated a belief in civic nationalism, which is “open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain, regardless of ethnic or religious background.” Although the right-wing party has very little representation in British domestic politics, it won more seats in the European parliamentary election than either the Labour Party or Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives. Winning 24 of the UK’s 73 seats, the election marked the first time in over a century that a party has outperformed the Labour or Conservative parties in a UK-wide election. Despite the fact that most Europhiles hope these nationalist parties share the fate of countless other failed political movements, the broad support of these parties across Europe suggests that they will permanently alter the European political landscape.