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The challenge of the populist right

23 January 2015
The challenge of the populist right

On Sunday evening, the eyes of much of Europe will be on the results of Greece’s general election. With Syriza poised to lead the resulting coalition government, much attention will be focused on the populist left. Nonetheless, it is the populist right which has reaped most of the electoral rewards in Europe in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

With some polls suggesting that she could defeat François Hollande in the presidential election in two years’ time, there has been much focus on Marine Le Pen’s National Front. The nature of the party’s supporters and members is changing. As Charlotte Rotman describes, recruiting young people has been a crucial element of Le Pen’s effort to clean-up the FN’s image.

But, asks Joël Gombin, how realistic really are Le Pen’s hopes of supplanting Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP as the main political force on the right? Within her ‘de-demonisation strategy’ may in fact rest the seeds of future difficulty, he concludes: “Le Pen ostensibly wants her party to be a ‘normal’ party. But its political attraction comes from the very fact that it is by no means ‘one and the same’ when compared with the other parties. As the appeal of the FN widens, the stronger this contradiction automatically becomes.”

While Italy’s Matteo Renzi continues to ride high in the opinion polls, the collapse of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia means that one of the main challenges to the Italian prime minister may come from a revitalised radical right. Under its new, young, and media-savvy leader, Matteo Salvini, the Northern League is attempting to break-out of its regional base, suggests Anna Cento Bull, replacing its anti-southern rhetoric with a message of “no euro, no immigrants, no taxes”.

Attempts to co-opt, or woo the supporters of, the populist right have been the strategy pursued by most European centre-right parties. In Scandinavia, for instance, the Danish People's party formally supported a centre-right government for years, while the Norwegian Progress party entered government for the first time in 2013. In contrast, Sweden, writes Nicholas Aylott, is pursuing a different approach. There, a ‘limited-aggression pact’ between the government and the centre-right Alliance tightened the cordon sanitaire around the Sweden Democrats. But does this approach spell future danger? “The SD”, Aylott argues, “has pushed them into forming a cartel that restricts the domain of political competition. That party now has a golden opportunity over the next eight years to present itself … as the country's only real opposition.”

Finally, Sonia Alonso and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser report on the strange case of Spain, where – almost uniquely in Europe – the populist radical right has virtually no political influence. They attribute this peculiarity to Spain’s electoral system and to the nationalism and authoritarian undertones of the conservative Popular party.But, in this election year, the corruption scandals surrounding the governing PP may provide the populist right with a second chance and thereby bring to a close this example of Spanish exceptionalism.

A party with no past, just a future?


Marine Le Pen is using young people to airbrush her party’s history. But why are so many attracted to the far right?



The French National Front: On its way to power?


Marine Le Pen must succeed in a delicate balancing act if her National Front is to become a mainstream party capable of reaching and competing in the second round of a presidential election while simultaneously maintaining its anti-politics appeal


A new lease of life for Italy's Northern League


Does the recent rise in popularity for Italy’s radical-right Northern League mark a historic breakthrough? Will this result in a showdown between the party's leader Matteo Salvini and centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi, each heading rival coalitions?


The Sweden Democrats: Ostracised and energised?


Sweden’s mainstream parties have tightened the cordon sanitaire around the country’s populist right party. Might the Sweden Democrats soon reap the electoral rewards?




A second chance for Spain's populist radical right


Having failed to capitalise on rising anti-immigrant sentiment a decade ago, might discontent with the governing Popular party provide Spain’s populist radical right with a new opportunity?



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