Redefining the Mainstream

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A decade ago, right-wing populism in Europe was still viewed as an outlier, a political philosophy that might take root in Eastern Europe or Russia because of their histories, but not wealthy Western European powers where the free market and robust social safety nets were satisfying their citizens’ diverse needs.

It turns out that view was completely misguided.

Giorgia Meloni’s victory in Italy especially demonstrates that groupings to the right of the conservative mainstream have a solid base in the Western half of the continent. Her political party, the Brothers of Italy, is a direct descendent of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s regime in World War II. As the Associated Press explained, that history didn’t dissuade a quarter of Italian voters.

In fact, many West European conservative political parties, like Germany’s Christian Democrats, have been adopting more populist positions in order to stop hemorrhaging members who are switching to newer, more nationalistic parties, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote.

“If there’s one dominant story in Western politics over the past decade, it’s that the far right is no longer beyond the pale,” opined Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor recently. “It has taken over the right-wing mainstream in many countries.”

In France, the far-right National Rally Party – formerly known as the National Front – has come close to winning the presidency a few times now, Politico reported. In Spain, the Vox party is gaining ground. The Sweden Democrats are now the second-largest bloc in their parliament despite their connection to neo-Nazis.

Common threads run through these groups: suspicions about bureaucrats in Brussels, the capital of the European Union; opposition to unfettered migration from poorer countries in North Africa, the Middle East and beyond, views that many in Western Europe and elsewhere label as xenophobic; and a willingness to use government in new ways to address the needs of their constituents.

For example, Austria demonstrates some of the forces that help far-right parties make hay, The National noted. The far-right Freedom Party is calling for the Central European country to hold a referendum on sanctions against Russia, including a ban on Russian oil that is slated to take effect next year even though, as Bloomberg wrote, Europe is still guzzling that oil and has few alternatives lined up to take its place.

One might criticize the Freedom Party for opening the door to aiding and abetting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine. But Euronews reported that demand for firewood is spiking in the Alpine nation because people are afraid of energy shortages this winter. The EU is recommending that countries cut their gas consumption by 13 percent, for example, so that reserves hold out through the cold months.

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