Post Trump, can Europe's far right be stopped?

Post Trump, can Europe's far right be stopped?
Comment: The election of Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the world. But the after-shocks in Europe could be almost as momentous, writes Hilary Aked
4 min read
18 Nov, 2016
French far-right party Front National President Marine Le Pen speaking at a rally [AFP]

France's far right Front National (FN) party hailed Trump's victory. Deputy leader Florian Philippot tweeted that "their world is crumbling, ours is being built".

FN leader Marine Le Pen said Trump's success was part of a "great movement across the world". This was a reference to how she has sought, also, to use Brexit as a springboard for success, drawing a comparison between the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) - which successfully pushed for the referendum - and her party.

On issues such as the EU and immigration "not a hair's breadth" separates the parties, she claimed. Though UKIP interim leader Nigel Farage has long sought to distance his party from the FN – due to its toxic, longstanding and well-documented neo-fascism - she is factually correct.

And on the back of the UK's decision to leave the EU and Trump’s shock victory, Le Pen will be feeling optimistic going into the French election next year. In a country that has lurched right significantly following a string of terrorist attacks - and has seen its state of emergency renewed four times by legislators - she will be a serious contender for president, likely to win the first round of voting.

What has stopped her in the past has been tactical vote swapping in the second round by the two main centrist parties. But with his anti-Islam rhetoric even the centre-left Parti Socialiste prime minister, Manuel Valls has helped his rival. Resentment about globalisation and anti-immigrant hostility - particularly in hotspots like Calais - has been simmering under the surface for years, and it too has been put to work by the FN.  

Anti-immigrant hostility - particularly in hotspots like Calais - has been simmering under the surface for years

Marine Le Pen's gender is thought to have won over more female voters, generally less likely to vote for far-right parties. She has also worked hard to sanitise the FN' image, for example expelling her own father, convicted Holocaust denier Jean Marie Le Pen, last year.

But its politics remain the same, even if the party's main racism of choice may currently be Islamophobia, instead of anti-Semitism. Marine Le Pen has compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation (rhetoric which, again, Valls has assisted by endorsing the term "Islamofascism").

Even before 2017, though, Europe could see a fascist leader come to power. The Austrian Freedom Party's Norbert Hofer is very likely to win the re-run election on December 4, in part buoyed by Brexit and the Trump victory.

In the same way that the FN eventually broke through the cordon sanitaire in France, the Freedom Party (FPO) have lingered in the mainstream for years and now have their eyes set on the levers of state power.

The task of building a coalition to stop the rise of the far right is of pressing urgency

Like the FN, the FPO have exploited Islamophobia. But if Trump's victory confirmed that anti-Muslim posturing is often rewarded with electoral gain, rather than exacting a political cost, his appointment of alleged anti-Semite Steve Bannon has demonstrated that different racisms bleed into each other.

All minorities - indeed all egalitarians and anti-racists - should be terrified by the prospect of victory for either the FN or FPO. But can Europe's far right now be stopped?

This is the question for Europe's progressive parties and for anti-fascists worldwide. The task of building a coalition to stop the rise of the far right is of pressing urgency.

What is clear is that "business as usual" won't do. Established elites and prevailing neoliberal economic policies are failing to deliver for the majority.

The left must offer a real alternative. It must articulate a clear vision for a change of direction

Populism is not necessarily a dirty word. It must swiftly be reclaimed.

The left must offer a real alternative. It must articulate a clear vision for a change of direction. And it must deliver its message of hope and solidarity as stridently and robustly as Trump was unapologetic in appealing to fear and bigotry.

In Austria and France, across Europe and the world, the historic moment we are living in is one of political polarisation, unprecedented in recent memory. The stakes could not be higher; the next twelve months will confirm either a slide into an era of 1930s-style barbarity in Europe or deliver a decisive pushback - one that will also hack away at the existing order but from the left, instead.

Spain's Podemos (and in some senses Syriza in Greece) can be held out as signs that another path is possible. It is one we must struggle for hard: it offers a future worth striving for - and the alternative is a very dark prospect.

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.