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Poland is supposed to be one of the politically sane places in Europe right now. The far-right Law and Justice Party lost national elections last year to a centrist coalition and exited power after eight long years of democratic repression. Donald Tusk, who’d previously been the president of the European Council, once again became the Polish prime minister. His government immediately set about restoring the rule of law that the Law and Justice Party had been so determined to dismantle.

Sounds good, right?

Yes, but then there’s Grzegorz Braun.

Braun is a member of a party called Konfederacja that stands just to the left of the Nazis. Think that’s an overstatement? Back in December, Braun used a fire extinguisher to put out the candles on a menorah in the Polish parliament, which had been set up to celebrate Hanukah. Just in case anyone might misinterpret the gesture—perhaps he though it was a fire risk?—Braun denounced the Jewish holiday as “satanic” and insisted that “those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed.” He also favors the criminalization of homosexuality. And he was the only Polish parliamentarian to oppose a resolution in 2022 denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And yet, despite these toxic positions, Braun was just elected to represent Poland in the European parliament. And so were five other members of his Konfederacja party, who have equally toxic views. That’s a gain of six seats over their previous showing in the 2019 elections, which had been zero. An astonishing 12 percent of Polish voters endorsed the positions of Braun and his colleagues.

Sure, in those same EU elections, Tusk’s centrist party managed to squeak by Law and Justice, which lost seven of their seats. But it was the party even further to the right that seemed to benefit.

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Swing to the Right

The big takeaway from the recent European Parliament elections was the success of far-right parties. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won over 31 percent of the vote in France, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to make the counter-intuitive decision to dissolve parliament and call new elections. Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader in Italy, also managed to increase her party’s share of support.

And the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) came in second in Germany with a big boost from the under-30 crowd, who didn’t seem to care about the various scandals involving the far-right party’s leadership. Because of the statements of party member Maximilian Krahl—he said that not all Nazi SS members were war criminals—the AfD was actually kicked out of the Identity and Democracy bloc. And then the AfD kicked Krahl out of the party, not only because of those statements but also because his close ties to Russia and China were attracting unwanted scrutiny. German voters elected him to the European parliament anyway.

Is there nothing that far-right politicians can say or do these days that disqualifies them in the minds of voters from holding public office? Each month, it seems that a new red line is crossed: anti-Semitism, extraordinary corruption, a felony conviction. What’s next, the use of germ warfare?

In the European parliament elections, the far right also took first place in Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia and tied for first in the Netherlands. Indeed, the only places that the far right didn’t do better than their last outing were Sweden, Finland, and Portugal, but even here the results weren’t exactly reassuring. The far-right Sweden Democrats remained steady at 3 seats (as did the Danish People’s Party at one seat). The Portuguese far right Chega party actually made it into the European Parliament for the first time with two seats. Only the True Finns party lost representatives and it was a drop of only one seat.

The good news is that the far-right electoral coalitions—the European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR), the Identity and Democracy bloc (ID), and the unaffiliated bloc that includes Fidesz and now the AfD—didn’t win enough votes to take over the leadership of the parliament. The ECR gained 14 seats (thanks largely to Meloni in Italy), the ID gained 9 seats (thanks largely to Le Pen in France), and the now-unaffiliated AfD increased their delegation by six seats. That puts the far right at nearly one-quarter of the total number of seats.

But the center right also did well in the election, increasing their total number of seats to 190. The ECR will not be forced to form a governing coalition with the far right, and that means that the European consensus on the green energy transition will remain more-or-less intact.

The Not-So-Long March

Let’s face it: the European parliament is not the most powerful institution around. What’s important about the far right’s victories is their apparent abandonment of any desire to destroy the EU or, at least, withdraw from it. The new far-right strategy is borrowed from the left (just like some of its economic program): a “long march through the institutions” in order to control them. Bye-bye Brexit and its heir apparents: Nexit, Grexit, Frexit. The far right wants to conquer Brussels.

Meanwhile, it is continuing its long march through national institutions. In Belgium, in federal elections earlier this month, the far-right, Euroskeptical, Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang came in second, behind a right-wing, Euroskeptical, Flemish nationalist party New Flemish Alliance. Traditionally, Belgian parties have agreed not to partner with Vlaams Belang to form governments. But with the New Flemish Alliance moving ever further to the right, the Belgians might be on the verge of breaking with this informal pact. Don’t expect a new government any time soon though: it took 18 months to forge a ruling coalition five years ago.

In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party is on track to win elections in September. Its coalition government with the Christian Democratic People’s Party collapsed in 2019 because of the Ibiza affair, which linked Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party to a corrupt deal involving a woman he thought was a well-connected Russian. The Freedom Party’s adulterously close relationship to Russia has not seemed to diminish its popularity. Another recent spy scandal broke, involving a top intelligence official passing information to Russia in exchange for money, which took place when the Freedom Party was in charge of the Interior Ministry. And yet Austrian voters concluded that this was just the type of party to send to the European parliament.

And then there’s France. Who knows, perhaps the French far right, too, will take over after the snap elections that Macron has called. The French, it seems, now hate Paris as much as they hate Brussels (the seat of the EU). Marine Le Pen is taking advantage of an anti-elitist, anti-globalist, anti-technocrat spirit that is rebranding reactionary as merely rebellious (sound familiar?). That’s bad news for Macron, whose every gesture and remark scream “Paris elite.” Fortunately, a more genuine challenge to the French orthodoxy has emerged on the left, as the Socialist, Communist, France Unbowed, and Ecologists parties have formed a new coalition. It is currently running neck and neck with Le Pen’s National Rally.

In The Netherlands, meanwhile, the far right has finally managed to put together a coalition government after their surprise victory in elections last year. Firebrand Geert Wilders had to give up on his desire to become prime minister, but in exchange his Party for Freedom (PVV) will control five ministries.

The new head of the migration and asylum ministry, Marjolein Faber of the PVV, is perhaps the last person you’d want in charge of a sensitive issue like immigration. She favors the abolition of Islam. She has called migration “repopulation,” a popular word in the far-right lexicon that has roots in the German word umvolkung, which was used by the Nazis and which today has much the same connotation as the “replacement” of majority white populations with non-white immigrants. And she has been guilty of the worst kind of racial profiling when she said that a stabbing suspect looked like a “North African” when witnesses reported otherwise.

Be Afraid, Very Afraid

Faber, Krahl, Braun: these far-right politicians make Donald Trump look like a conservative Democrat (which he used to be before opportunism beckoned). Of course, the Eurocrazies don’t have as much power as Trump might once again have. But the really scary part is how routine it has become for such people—who, a generation ago, would have been just kooks making long-winded speeches from the audience at public forums—to now be in positions of real responsibility.

It’s also frightening because it’s not just Europe that has been affected by this peculiar political disease. Narendra Modi, despite a drop in his party’s support in the latest elections, will continue on as prime minister of India. Nayib Bukele, the telegenic autocrat in El Salvador, won a supermajority in parliament earlier this year for his New Ideas party. And Vladimir Putin, no surprise here, won his election in Russia.

Trump was blocked from doing his worst by the institutions of a democratic society (Congress, state governments, courts, conscientious objectors at all levels). The EU, after this near miss with near fascism, will also be able to prevent the far right from unraveling the rule of law.

But at what point will the far right achieve a critical mass of support such that it can kick away the ladder that they used to climb to power? The far right’s long march through the institutions has only one ultimate destination: autocracy.

Source of original article: Foreign Policy In Focus (fpif.org).
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