Europe May Experience Nationalist Churning

Donald Trump’s recent victory in the American Presidential Election underlines the fact that right-wing populism has become a credible political strategy. His win can easily boost such forces, grappling with the downside of globalisation, elsewhere in the world.

Foreign policy experts opine that Europe will experience the next phase of nationalist churning, as the continent is going through the Eurzone crisis and facing difficulties in tacking refugees from West Asia. The refugee crisis has not only provoked debates about national identity and immigration in various European countries, but also bolstered conservative parties there.

Now, how the right-wings will fare in Europe will depend on how Trump starts out as US president. President-elect Trump, known for his sexist, racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric, is the most polarising right-wing figure who is poised to take the US (and the world) into an uncharted territory. He can easily influence other world leaders, like Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, Jimmie Akesson, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orban, Heinz-Christian Strache, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, Frauke Petry, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Shinzo Abe, in the coming days.

In Britain, Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party drove the Brexit campaign in July, stoking fears of immigration. Prime Minister May is also fairly hard-line on the issue of immigration. Russian President Putin, the authoritarian leader who does not tolerate dissent, has often clashed with the West and is committed to maintaining Russia’s role as a great power in world affairs.

Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party, wants a referendum on the EU membership. Led by Jimmie Akesson, the party secured 13% vote in 2014 elections and holds the balance of power in the Parliament. Interestingly, its ratings in opinion polls are constantly improving. The leader of Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders wants a referendum on the EU and is opposed to immigration. The Dutch leader also wants to shut down mosques, ban the Quran and tax women for wearing the hijab.

President of the National Front and a trained lawyer, Marine Le Pen is anti-immigration and wants France out of the EU. Le Pen, who secured nearly 18% of the vote in the 2012 Presidential Elections, is expected to contest again in 2017 and make it to the second round. In Italy, the Lega Nord (Northern League) – led by Matteo Salvini – is critical of the EU and has a tough stance on immigration. Polled only 4% in 2013 elections, the Lega Nord now has 16% support in opinion polls. The party has the potential to be part of the ruling coalition after the next election.

Hungarian Prime Minister and leader of Fidesz Viktor Orban, too, is known for his anti-immigration stance. A former anti-communist youth leader-turned-conservative, Orban has built a 100-mile razor wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia. Led by Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party of Austria says that protection of cultural identity and social peace requires his country to stop immigration. Apart from Strache, there is Norbert Hofer in Austria. Hofer will contest Presidential Elections in December, which he narrowly lost in May. He says that “Islam has no place in Austria”.

The situation is same in Greece. Golden Dawn is a neo-fascist Greek party that is known for its violent tactics and extreme anti-immigrant views. Around 69 members of the party, including its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, are on trial on charges of running a criminal organisation. The party surprised many by finishing third in the 2015 elections. Frauke Petry, the leader of Alternative for Germany, opposes ‘Islamification” of her country and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration and refugee policy.

Turkey, currently under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule, is now witnessing a massive purge of suspected opposition figures. In the last few months, more than 100,000 government employees have been dismissed by the Erdogan government. Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister and leader of Liberal Democratic Party, has called for a debate on rewriting his country’s Pacific Constitution, which would allow Japan to mobilise troops to defend itself. His comments on Japan’s wartime conduct and visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates the war dead, has angered neighbouring countries.

So, these world leaders can easily take the easy route and focus their attack on minorities, migrants, other vulnerable groups and enemies abroad. This regressive trend has just got a boost with Trump’s election as the US president. Populists have already won control of the government in Britain and gained momentum in Italy, France and Germany. The new age of de-globalisation is on and it is likely to last. Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management Ruchir Sharma has expressed serious concern over the recent rise of populism across the globe. According to him, as the open world order is breaking apart, we may soon revisit 1914 when the great shock came with the outbreak of WWI. The Great War ended an extraordinary four-decade period of rising migration and trade, he said.


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