Rise of the Far Right in Europe

By Michael Pusic

Meeting Recap: The Rise of The Far Right

On February 6th, the Roosevelt Institute met to discuss the widespread rise of far right parties in Europe and the U.S. Given Trump’s rapid ascent to power and the polarizing effect of surging immigrant populations in Europe, few issues seemed more pressing or relevant. Though many were familiar with the nature of such movements at home, discussion shed light on the intricacies and parallels that could be found in countries ranging from France to Hungary. Center Director for Defense and Diplomacy Ademali Sengal and Journal Editor Jordan Singer set out three major issues for discourse: the causes behind this rise in extremism, obligations regarding the refugee crisis, and the possibility of nations exiting the EU.


Sengal opened the discussion by observing two similarities between the far right in the U.S. and Europe: First, both used strongly anti-immigrant and even anti-Muslim rhetoric, and second, both were led by ‘outsider’ candidates who were not part of the existing establishment. From this, discussion naturally flowed to how these aspects revealed the similar causes behind both movements. In Europe and the U.S. recent terrorist attacks have led to gross generalizations about Muslims and foreigners as a whole. This has been especially true in Europe, where millions of refugees are pressing at the borders of such nations, and their economies are struggling to bear the according welfare costs. Many also argued that the movement away from traditional candidates in recent elections reflected a popular disenfranchisement with mainstream politics. Economic turmoil in Europe and political gridlock in the United States has eroded faith in the establishment and made many more willing to support extremist movements.


From this, Singer moved the discussion towards the burden that the U.S. and Europe hold in regards to the international refugee crisis. Concerns were raised about reports of immigrants committing crime in their host nations, but others argued that these claims were largely anecdotal and that given Europe’s aging demographics, the surge in a younger population would be largely beneficial in the long run. The main issue of discussion was whether or not European economies would be able to bear the welfare cost of immigrants and if deteriorating economies might further the rise of political extremism. Policies were then proposed regarding what the U.S. could do to alleviate this burden. While some recommended providing aid tied to the acceptance of refugees, others believed that we should take in the immigrants ourselves given our larger and more robust economy.


Finally, Roosevelt discussed popular movements in Britain and Greece to exit the European Union. In May 2015, David Cameron acquiesced to a referendum on EU membership in order to prevent the rise of an extremist party and to ensure the Tory vote. Though it is very unlikely that the UK will leave the EU, members largely agreed that this sets a dangerous precedent and harms the image of the European Union. With an unemployment rate of 26% and a GDP-to-Debt ratio of 177%, Greece is similarly considering exiting the EU. This economic desperation is exacerbated by the fact that they are the first, and often last, stop for refugees travelling by boat from Turkey. Again policy proposals largely centered around means to alleviate these economic woes, in order to maintain stability and political centrism.


Ultimately, the discussion found that the rise of the far right stemmed from fragile economies threatened by large influxes of refugees. However unlikely, a solution to this issue must deal with the financial woes that have pushed so many to support radical solutions.