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The Rise of the New Right Essay

The major paradigm on European politics that will be discussed in this essay is nationalism. During the last few decades nationalism has blossomed in Europe, both through political parties, and through other organisations. At the same time the emergence of the new right has also been strong. This essay will look at how nationalist parties were started around Europe in the early 70s, and how they are doing in present time. It will also look into whether or not strong nationalism always leads to the rise of the new right. The latter will lead to a research proposal for the next essay.

According to Hutchinson and Smith (1994, p.160), the French Revolution is often taken to be the first example of European nationalism. However, recent studies argue that sixteenth-century England was really the first to identify, and elevate, the whole people as the sovereign nation. Later examples in France, Germany, Russia, and America only added the exclusive and cultural components of the more familiar ethnic nationalisms.

 

On March 11, 1882, the great French scholar Ernest Renan gave a lecture with the provocative title, “What is a Nation?” Still recovering from the shock of the defeat of France by Prussia in the Franco- Prussian War of 1871, Renan, like many liberal nationalists before and after him, walked a thin line between the affirmation of the individual nation, which he described as “a soul, a spiritual principle,” and the celebration of the peaceful plurality of nations. For Renan, nations were not eternal: they emerged through suffering and struggle in the past; they were sustained by the will to live together in the future. Nations had their beginning and their end. One day, he prophesied, “A European confederation will probably replace them. But such is not the law of the century in which we are living” (Benhabib, 2002).

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Twice in the twentieth century nationalist wars convulsed Europe and led to worldwide carnage; the dream of a European confederation that would end such wars has inspired European intellectuals at least since the Napoleonic conquests in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Recent developments within the European Union – the adoption of a common currency by twelve of the fifteen member countries and the launching in February 2002 of a year-long European constitutional convention – have given “Euro-federalists” new hope and energy. Starting from a coal and steel consortium among Germany, France, the Benelux countries, and Italy in 1951, the EU currently encompasses 370 million residents in fifteen member countries (Benhabib, 2002).

European societies that once, despite their imperialist history, considered themselves homogeneous nation-states are now experiencing changes in the make-up of their population that they did not foresee and about which they feel deeply ambivalent. Caught among the exigencies of a global economy in which the free movement of cheap labour across national borders is essential to capital expansion, urged by their liberal-democratic consciences to help asylees and refugees from the break up wars of former Yugoslavia and the third world in general, and preoccupied with their own national histories and cultural legacies, EU countries are struggling with radically new collective self-definitions. Even Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, which had traditionally been sender rather than receiver countries, now have to deal with large numbers of legal and illegal immigrants (Benhabib, 2002).

De Gaulle was always clear. Only nation states, acting unilaterally, were capable of conducting foreign policy. He dismissed the United Nations as un machin (a thing) and refused to pay France’s membership dues in protest at the UN decision to send peacekeepers to the Congo. He sneered at the Volapuk, or meaningless babble, of European integration (Macshane, 2003).

Although France was one of the founding six nations of today’s European Union, the notion that de Gaulle might consult Belgium or Luxembourg, or even Germany, before announcing a policy for France was unthinkable (Macshane, 2003).

The antithesis is the Fischer vision. Ten years ago Fischer called for the strengthening of European institutions to avoid a relapse into Gaullist nationalism, to give a home to the nations of Eastern Europe after the end of communism and to promote Europe’s values through a unified presence outside its borders. He accepted this would mean Germany taking on security responsibilities beyond territorial defense. This is the policy he has implemented alongside Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder since coming to power in 1998. The German constitution was changed to permit out-of-area military action by German soldiers. German troops were committed to the Kosovo conflict even though the bombing of Belgrade had no specific UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force. Today, Germany provides the security of Kabul for the Afghanistan government (Macshane, 2003).

Since the turn of the new millennium, extreme right parties have been the subject of considerable concern. The most immediate cause has been the entry into government of the Austrian Freedom Party – an event which has aroused condemnation from fellow-European Union governments.

Almost as controversial are his more frequent references to immigration, including his plan to halt further arrivals and end the progress of multi-culturalism. Whilst Haider did not take office in the new coalition, many fear that he remains the dominant influence within his party. The rise of the Swiss People’s party, in a country which for many people is the very epitome of prosperity and democratic stability, has also aroused concern. The People’s Party leader, Christoph Blocher, may not have praised Nazism, but he has objected to Swiss donations to fund for Holocaust survivors and his party has ominously demonstrated how a mainstream governing party can successfully turn to anti-immigrant politics (Eatwell, 2000).

The electoral successes of these two parties are far from isolated cases. Since the mid-1980’s a variety of new right parties within Western Europe have achieved notable electoral results (Appendix A). In assessing new right electoral progress, it is important to note that these results are gained in multi-party systems, and that extremist parties can attract much higher votes in some areas. For instance, in the 1999 elections, the Swiss People’s Party gained 38% in the Appenzell region (Eatwell, 2000).

Yet at the turn of the mid 1980s, new right parties had seemed destined for political oblivion. Symptomatic of their position was the French National Front, which had been formed in 1972 under the leadership of Jean-Marie La Pen. The early development of this party was influenced by two foreign models. The first was Italian Social Movement (MSI): launched in 1946 by lower ranking unrepentant fascists, at the turn of the 1970s it had apparently successfully broadened its appeal by forging greater electoral links with conservatives. The second was the British National Front: formed in 1967 from an amalgamation of fascists and more conservative racists, the party was a pioneer exponent of ‘anti-immigrant’ politics. However, the latter – after briefly threatening a major breakthrough in some urban areas – went down to humiliating defeat in the 1979 British general election.

The French National Front initially made no electoral headway: in 1981, Le Pen could not even gather the 500 official signatures necessary to run in that year’s presidential elections. Yet just three years later, it had achieved a breakthrough, when it won 10% of the vote in elections to the European Parliament – thus commencing a presence unbroken to this day. The Front went on to become a model for many parties, combining fervent nationalism, opposition to immigration, and a populist hostility to the political establishment. By 1994, the Italian Social Movement, reborn as the National Alliance, had captured 14% of the vote and supplied five ministers for the new Italian centre-right coalition government. Intriguingly, it did this without attracting the major furore which has surrounded the entry of Haider’s party into office (Eatwell, 2000).

In Scandinavia, the 1970s witnessed the birth of another new party witch was to inspire others. The prototype was the Danish Progress Party, formed in 1972 by tax lawyer Mogens Glistrup, who had failed to win a nomination to run for the conservative party. Glistrup’s party went on to win 16% of the vote in the 1973 elections, becoming Denmark’s second largest party. It campaigned largely on an anti-big state, populist programme. It was helped too by anti-European sentiment, which remained a notable feature of public opinion after Denmark joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

A prominent aspect of its appeal was opposition to welfare for those unwilling to work. By the late 1970s, this theme was increasingly linked with anti-immigrant politics. However, during the early 1980s it virtually collapsed, partly as a result of schisms. Although it had never enjoyed the spectacular opening success of its Danish brother, a similar decline befell the Norwegian Progress Party, which has been founded in 1973. But by 1997, the Norwegian party had won a record 15% of the poll. And at the turn of 2000, the Danish Popular Party, which had emerged from a split in Denmark’s Progress Party, had a rating of over 15% in opinion polls, making it the third most popular party (Eatwell, 2000).

During the 1990s, two other important new right parties went on to notable electoral success, although their impact abroad was smaller than that of the French National Front and Danish Progress Party. In Italy, the Northern League combined anti-big state economics with anti-immigrant politics, which were initially aimed more at southern Italians than non-nationals. In Belgium, the Flemish Block was much less committed to rolling back the state economically, and by the late 1980s was far more committed to anti- (coloured) immigrant politics. But these two parties shared one feature in common – an attempt to forge a sense of ethnically pure community, legitimised by history. They were micro-nationalist parties, seeking as a minimum to become part of new federal states – and many of their leaders were more intent on separate statehood. By the late 1990s, the Flemish Block had the support of 30% of voters in the major city of Antwerp. In Italian towns such as Bergamo, the Northern League could match or better this score (Eatwell, 2000).

Whereas many party families are characterised by common names, such as ‘communists’, ‘green’, or ‘socialists’, the new right is more of an extended family in which different nomenclatures abound. Some of the parties do not even accept that they are right-wing, often claiming that they represent a ‘neither left nor right’ position. A further classificatory problem stems from the fact that many of the parties, especially those with fascist factions, have good reasons to hide their exact paternity. Partly as a result of this, there can be a disjunction between what is said in public and what appears to hold sway in a party’s inner circles. Moreover, party platforms can change notably over time as a result of tactical concerns or changing circumstances.

Especially among journalists, there has been a tendency to employ a plethora of terms to categorise this group of parties: ‘fascist’, ‘neo-nazi’, ‘extreme right’, ‘ultra right’, ‘far right’ and ‘radical right’ are the most common synonyms. Conceptual inflation is frequently accompanied by a thesaurus-like tendency to substitute terms: an ‘extreme right’ is thus followed by a ‘far right’, and so on. Only rarely has any attempt been made to distinguish between different forms of this family. For some time after 1945, ‘radical right’ was the preferred academic term for groups which shared an affinity with pre-war fascism but which were not necessarily identical. Although this term is still used by some commentators, it has gradually fallen from favour. One reason for this was the rise after the 1960s of a radical neo-conservatism in countries such as the USA and Britain, challenging the post war statist-welfare consensus which had encompassed much of the moderate right. Nevertheless, including radical neo-conservatism in a family of parties which also included fascists seemed to stretch the concept of the ‘radical right’ too far.

During the 1960s and 1970s, ‘extreme right’ largely came up as a new main academic generic term. Initially, advocacy of violence was at the heart of most definitions of the extremist party family. This has now largely been dropped as a necessary requirement because there are no electoral-significant parties in Europe which openly support domestic political violence. Although, it could be argued that anti-immigrant politics encourages racial violence and harassment.

Four features currently figure most prominently in academic definitions of the extreme right: hostility to democracy; racism; support for the strong state; and nationalism. Yet on this check list, all of the parties in appendix A are not extremists when judged on their public statements. Substituting ‘anti-parliamentarian’ for ‘anti-democratic’ would be more inclusive because parliaments and their multiparty systems are often attacked as divisive and encouraging cabals of vested interests. Nevertheless, typological problems would still remain as none of the above parties openly states that it seeks to abolish constitutional government – although they often advocate reform, such as strong presidential systems.

Members of the European Union got there by voting in their respective countries. In many countries, e.g. Finland and Sweden, it was a tight race between ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The problem for many of the voters was, before submitting to the forces of European Union, was that they felt their sovereignty was threatened.

By far and away the most important example of a policy forged by political elites rather than pressure from public opinion has been the move towards ever-closer European Union. Voter reaction in countries such as Ireland, France and Denmark indicates disquiet with the speed of this process and many of the new rightwing parties, wrapped in the mantle of nationalism, have found it easier to tap this mood than the mainstream parties with their staunchly Europeanist pasts. They are readier, too, to talk the language of race: the habit of defining the nation in ethnic terms dies hard in Europe and many people still see multi-culturalism as a short-term necessary evil and assimilation as the long-term goal. Advanced in Britain, the debate about multi-versus mono-culturalism is only just under way in countries in southern and Eastern Europe (Mazower, 2002).

Yet racism, operative though it may be, is not the key issue for the new right; immigration is. Europeans have never thought of themselves as belonging to countries of immigration in the way Americans do. But fear of immigration has rarely been of such political significance as at present and openly xenophobic parties such as the Party of the Danish People, which won 12 per cent of the vote last November, have begun to leave their mark on policy. Constrained by their fears of attacks from both right and left, most governments have not been keen to debate the pros and cons of immigration in public (Mazower, 2002).

They will not be able to leave the issue alone for much longer. From the purely economic point of view, immigration evidently not only will, but also should, continue indefinitely. In the mid-1990s, net population increase in the European Union was down to about 2.5 per cent a year; immigration was responsible for about 1.5 per cent of this. The long-run demographic slowdown across the continent has pushed the net reproduction rate below zero, even in countries such as Italy that not so long ago were exporting their surplus labour overseas. Rapidly falling levels of youth unemployment in particular underline the need for immigrant workers to offset a rapidly ageing population. Were immigration to cease tomorrow, European labour markets would tighten, growth would slow and the prospects for solving the continent’s long-run pension’s crisis – already a time-bomb at the heart of the euro – would suddenly worsen (Mazower, 2002).

During the last few decades, since the early 1970s, the rise of the New Right has been strong. The increasingly stronger European Union is a factor in all this. People all over Europe, even in those countries that are not member of the European Union, fell that they loose much of their individuality and political power. In countries like Austria, Switzerland, France, Denmark and Norway we have seen how much political power new rights movements have gained during the last 30 years.

In most of the countries it is possible to see a strong correlation between growing nationalism and the emergence of the new right. Denmark is one of those countries where a strong anti-European sentiment has lead to a strong new rights movement. On the other side we have countries where nationalism is not the reason for the rise of the new right. In Italy we have seen that new right parties have gained popularity much because of their anti-south Italy stand. But in most cases around Europe it is clear that the reason for the rise of the new right is due to a strong national feeling, and concern about the increasing European Union.

For my second essay I will look into the rise of the new right in two countries in Europe. Through research I will compare the rise of new right movements in Norway and Italy. These two countries are very different in almost every aspect. Norway is not a member of the European Union, Italy is. Norway rely mainly on their oil production and fishing industry, whereas Italy has a strong industry as a whole. Norway has had strong and stable minority governments since WWII, Italy has had numerous governments just the last decade. I will, through a comparative analysis, look at similarities and differences, and try to explain how the rise of the new right has been so strong in both these countries.

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