The Austrian presidential elections were the latest event in a trend of right-wing election surge all over Europe. The Austrian right wing party named Freedom Party of Austria, which is sometimes dubbed as far right populist, with a conservative, eurosceptic, and anti-immigrant platform narrowly missed its get the office of the President. Its leader, Norbert Hofer, lost only for 31,000 votes in an elections campaign decided by the mail votes preventing him from becoming the first far right head of state in Western Europe.
Yes, the surge of the right-wing parties in Europe, ranging from conservative to populist, far right, and neo-Nazi parties should come as no surprise as year by year they have increased their support and have become an appealing means of protest vote against establishment politics and traditional political parties. This trend is now observable also across the Atlantic where Donald Trump, a businessman turned showman and political outsider in the Republican Party, won the party nomination campaigning with controversial and divisive platform.
The National Front is a prime example of the right wing turns in the EU. Marie Le Pen’s party came second in the regional elections, losing the opportunity to control a region for the first time. Yet, the party that was established by Marie Le Pen’s father in the 1970s is not the same party of the past. Instead of verging in the extreme right it has refurbished its image to that of a social conservation, eurosceptic, anti-migration party. This pragmatist ideological shift on issues more concerning to the average French and European voter was manifested by the ousting of its founder, Jean Marie Le Pen, and its growing support with disappointed left-wing and right-wing voters.
Hungary and Poland have had right wing conservative parties have been elected into office. In Germany the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is gaining momentum with the handling of the migrant crisis by Mrs Merkel. In the United Kingdom the pending EU referendum will decide the fate of the country – with the voting projections showing a head-to-head race between the supporters of Brexit and remaining a member of the EU. In all those instances, the debate has been positioned in issues such as immigration, the growing powers of Brussels, its decision-making process, and what is perceived as coercion from Brussels towards member states.
Therefore, it is up to the EU technocrats and influential member states to curb the growing euroscepticism and the trend of right-wing populism serving as an alternative to mainstream politics. This can only be achieved if the EU takes more consideration of member states’ demands and sensitivities when dealing with issues like the migrant crisis and looking to incentivize the support of certain policies instead of threatening its members of fines, like in the case of asylum seekers quotas. The UK could become the first member to leave the Union, and other discontent member states may try to imitate it.
Either the EU remains as it is, expands or shrinks, populist alternatives from the right wing, as is happening now, or left wing will usurp the political sphere. It needs a concentrated effort by mainstream political parties in Europe with solid propositions and policies that can provide genuine solutions to issues such as immigration, economic growth and security to curb the populist trend.