Economic gloom fuels far-right growth
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s obituary for multiculturalism in Germany is at one with the temper of the times in Europe.
From Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, the past few months have seen an increase in anti-immigrant, specifically anti-Muslim, policies and a backlash against ethnic minorities.
This has been reflected in electoral breakthroughs for the far right in the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, France and Italy.
Following on the zeitgeist, mainstream governments of the centre right have been trying to curb the live-and-let-live approach by, for example, banning the burqa or minarets.
In the Netherlands, a right-wing minority government took office, pledging to curb immigration, restricting Islamic headgear and deporting immigrants with criminal records.
The coalition depends for its survival on the parliamentary support of Geert Wilders, the anti-immigrant firebrand and perhaps the most aggressive anti-Islam politician in Europe.
In Vienna the far-right leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, more than doubled his vote, to 27%, following a xenophobic campaign that featured free computer games, which involved firing at mosques, and calls for the city’s “blood to remain Viennese”.
Last month, in Sweden, which has traditionally had Europe’s most open-door policy for immigrants, a party with neo-Nazi roots, Sweden Democrats, broke through into Parliament for the first time.
In France the beleaguered Nicolas Sarkozy administration has banned the burqa—a policy being emulated in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland—and fought its biggest battle in years with European Union headquarters in Brussels over the summary deportation of Roma (or Gypsy) families.
The backdrop to the backlash is economic gloom, austerity packages and public spending cuts, with voters worried about their jobs, living standards and children.
Mainstream leaders are desperate to shore up support and extremist populist mavericks resort to scapegoating immigrants in a time of troubles.
The far right is benefiting from the failures of mainstream politics. The perceived entrenchment of parallel societies in Europe’s big cities is seen as the root of the problem as well as the failure to integrate immigrants.
Wilder prophesies the “Islamification” of the Netherlands. Thilo Sarrazin, whose bestselling book about Germany’s kamikaze mission on immigration, warns of a Turkish Muslim takeover.
The far right is prospering, taking the votes of traditional working-class centre-left supporters, while mainstream social democracy struggles.
With an ageing population and anxious to save its “social model”, Europe needs immigrants but has yet to come up with a satisfactory way of organising immigration.—