The far-right’s challenge to European politics in 2022


The unprecedented growth of right-wing parties in Europe points to an uncertain future, as they capitalise on political divides

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Image by Blandine Le Cain

By Hannah Boyle

The growth of the far-right across Europe is becoming inescapable – and the more mainstream politics tries to ignore the surge in support, the larger it becomes. People in states such as Italy, Sweden and France are shifting their support to figures who promote right-wing alternatives, and it is not an isolated European experience.

While Brazil may have just elected left wing Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva or ‘Lula’ as President against incumbent President Bolsonaro, who many deem to be a figure of the far-right, slim majorities in Latin America tell us it is not just Europe experiencing a political shift. Lula’s victory over Bolsonaro was narrow at best, with only two million votes separating them both out of a population of over 215 million people, gaining only approximately 50.9 percent of the vote.

While the left celebrated their narrow resurgence to power in Brazil, Israel told a different story with the election of previous President Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition, despite facing corruption charges for his last stint in office. The return of the right-wing is becoming a phenomenon to which no one is immune, and old figures are starting to return.

Looking closer to home, Italy’s recent election delivered a clear majority for the right-wing alliance, overseen by the ‘Brothers of Italy’ party, led by Giorgia Meloni. The group won a majority of 237 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 115 seats in the Senate, delivering a majority in both Chambers of Parliament. The election win was not necessarily unexpected, and certainly was not without controversy – most recently when Meloni appointed a Minister who had been pictured sporting a Nazi swastika in 2005.

Similarly, the Swedish General Election held in September produced a small majority for the right-wing coalition, after what the BBC labelled as one of the “ugliest election campaigns in history.” In mid-October it was confirmed that Ulf Kristersson will assume the position of Prime Minister in Sweden, bringing the Moderate Party into a coalition with the Christian Democrats and Liberals – but crucially supported by the Sweden Democrats (SD), the far-right party that now boasts of the second highest number of seats in the Parliament.

And it does not stop on the European continent, as British Home Secretary Suella Braverman faced backlash from her recent use of divisive rhetoric, alleging an “invasion” of asylum seekers and migrants. Braverman’s comments attracted criticism from across the political spectrum, with MPs arguing the rhetoric only fuels the anger of the far-right in an already polarised political system.

The situation for groups outside of the political system is interesting too. Far-right groups such as Patriotic Alternative (PA), founded in 2019 with ties with the British National Party (BNP), have utilised Covid-19 lockdowns to target younger audiences online. The group has been investigated by The Times, alongside Channel 4 Dispatches, with concerns they are targeting young, often vulnerable teenagers.

Why has 2022 seen such a rise in the numbers of voters attracted to the parties of the far-right? Covid-19 fuelled a backlash against ‘the establishment’, with politicians railing against social restrictions and lockdown mandates. Since the removal of restrictions, there has been one common target: immigration.

With world conflicts such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, unrest in the Middle East and civil war tensions in nations such as Ethiopia and South Sudan, the number of those crossing the Mediterranean in small boats is increasing, and the Meloni government is just one of many wanting to crack down on those entering the country. Meloni’s Interior Minister, Matteo Piantedosi, even threatened to close ports to any rescue boats carrying migrants, in an attempt to live up to the hardline policy on immigration Meloni is known for.

Similar narratives can be seen within the current rise of the far-right in France, where despite losing the 2022 Presidential election to incumbent Emmanuel Macron, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen still received 42 percent of the vote. Le Pen, representing the ‘National Rally’ party, ran on a platform of ‘nationals’ being the priority for housing, “fighting Islamicism” and dramatically reducing immigration.

But it is not all over for the left wing, centre and moderate right-wing. The growth of the far-right appears to be in reaction to the political divides of the day, and like anything else, there will be peaks and troughs in the development of the far-right agenda. Lula’s victory may be a narrow one, but it is still a victory. Elections in Chile last year saw the reconciliation of two sides of the political spectrum after the success of moderate candidate Gabriel Boric, following social uprisings in 2019.

Politics continues to have the power to be reconciliatory, and while the far-right appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future, the return to a moderate form of governance and government remains on the cards.