Tuesday, October 16, 2018
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How Europe's far-right feasts on Trump's victory

Europe's refugee and economic crises have created conditions for the far-right to exploit Trump's success.

Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

by Rachel Shabi

As the consequences of Donald Trump's victory are assessed around the world, there are reasons to be very afraid in Europe.

Among the first to celebrate the race-baiting, misogynist authoritarian's election as the next United States president was Europe's populist far-right. Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) in France tweeted her congratulations and later said: "Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built."

Geert Wilders, from the far-right Dutch Freedom Party, said: "Politics will never be the same. What happened in America can happen in Europe and the Netherlands, as well."

Frauke Petry, leader of Germany's anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), also congratulated Trump, while hailing the historic opportunity his victory represented.

In Austria, Norbert Hofer, presidential candidate and chairman of the far-right Freedom Party, was similarly jubilant, as was Hungary's far-right prime minister, Victor Orban, as well as Poland's staunchly nationalist president, Andrzej Duda.

Globalisation of the far-right

You get the picture: The varying shades of ethno-nationalist, anti-immigration parties in Europe were really pleased with Trump's success. Not least because it was so unexpected - and if it can happen like that in the US, then why not across Europe?

Meanwhile the first foreign politician to meet Trump following his election win was Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Farage doesn't have a parliamentary seat, but was a leading Brexit campaigner in the referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, and joined Trump on the campaign trail a few months ago.

Now pressuring the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, for an ambassadorial role to the US, although May swiftly dismissed the idea, his meeting with Trump seemed intended to send out a signal to European voters: The far-right is for winners.

If Europe's assorted populist race-baiters are happy, it's no doubt bolstered by the impression, emanating from some of Trump's people, that the globalisation of the racist far-right across Europe is the stated goal.

That's according to Stephen Bannon, who runs the white supremacist, misogynistic Breitbart news website, which campaigned for Trump.

He's going to be the next president's chief strategist. A man soon to hold all the power that accompanies this White House position has stated aims to expand the Breitbart Empire into France and Germany.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who is Marine Le Pen's niece and an FN member of the French parliament, enthused on Twitter about their working with Bannon. As an analysis piece in the US Daily Beast news and views website noted, Bannon "is right now the direct line between the European far-right and Donald J Trump, leader of the free world".

Perfect conditions for exploitation

Meanwhile, the think-tank the European Council on Foreign Relations found earlier this year that, while Russia didn't create far-right parties in the EU bloc, it benefits from the pro-Russia sympathies held by a majority of them.

Suspicions routinely circle over Russian support for such parties, while Marine Le Pen's party has received funding from a Russian lender a few years ago (after French banks refused to lend).

Now, with Trump seeking a "partner-like" dialogue with Russia's Vladimir Putin, this full loop of authoritarian power and influence has terrifying potential.

Small wonder, then, that EU member states are worried, holding an emergency meeting last Sunday - although Britain, France and Hungary refused to attend, signalling potential rifts in alliances.

Europe's migration crisis, and failure to deal with it in a coordinated manner, on top of years of economic crisis, have created perfect conditions for the far-right to exploit, using the usual tactic of railing against a corrupt establishment while pushing a nativist nationalism that scapegoats Muslims and migrants alike as a terror threat and the reason for everything that's wrong.

But, the reason to be cheerful - OK, just a little bit less gloomy, then - is the roots of the European project, and all its attendant values, which may be deep enough to withstand this assault.

Ruth Wodak, author of The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean, told me by phone that, across Europe, the levels of "dismay and aversion towards a lot of things Trump has said and believes" may well galvanise attempts to fight much harder to thwart any far-right electoral success.

Explaining that this may already have been the effect of Brexit, once the post-referendum disarray in Britain became evident, she holds that commitment to issues such as the welfare state, healthcare, green policies, human rights and a commitment to a joint peace project in post-war Europe may serve as a political dam against the far-right.

For that to work, though, the EU would need to take an economic turn to the left, away from the ravaging neoliberalism and austerity policies that have caused such deep economic pain and fuelled the anger upon which the far-right feasts.

Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews from Arab Lands.

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