The refugee crisis that has struck Europe is the worst the continent has seen since the Second World War, and with it has come the resurgence of political parties that have not enjoyed this kind of support since 1945.
Support for far-right —and to a lesser extent far-left— parties has spiked in recent months as hundreds of thousands of refugees have come to Europe and a huge chunk of the population has once more felt their concerns were ignored or belittled by the ruling political class.
Recent terrorist attacks throughout the continent have also added to the feeling of insecurity of many Europeans and the persisting austerity measures following the 2008 financial crisis are increasingly pushing people to seek alternatives to the current major parties.
This chart from a Morgan Stanley note on the political risks in Europe highlights how parties on both ends of the political spectrum are becoming increasingly popular throughout the continent.
Germany’s Angela Merkel was dealt one of her largest blows yet since she started advocating for an open-door policy for refugees. In the latest round of state elections last Sunday, her Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) was knocked into third place by the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Chancellor’s home region.
In France, a slew of terrorist attacks have boosted the poll numbers of Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant Front National. The far-right party is shaping up to be one of the most important forces in the upcoming 2017 presidential election.
This autumn, Austria might also become the first European country since WW2 to have a member of a far-right party as its head.
Their presidential election — which opposed Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party to Alexander van der Bellen from the Greens and was only very narrowly won by van der Bellen — was declared invalid by the Austrian Constitutional Court and will have to take place a second time.
And although Austria’s presidency is a ceremonial role, Hofer has already said that he would try to extend his limited powers if he wins.
Belgium’s staunchly Islamophobic and anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang has also experienced a steady gain in popularity. Italy’s federalist and Eurosceptic Lega Nord and Noi con Salvini are enjoying rapidly growing support as well.
The UK’s Brexit vote is also one of the most potent signs that the public is increasingly dissatisfied with politicians and the current migration crisis. One of the most important issues that drove the British public to vote to leave the European Union was the free-flowing migration from the continent.
The “contagion risk” from the UK to the rest of the continent is still possible too. Le Pen announced last week that if elected she would hold a referendum on France’s membership of the EU. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ far-right anti-EU Dutch Freedom Party keeps gaining in popularity as well.
The aftermath of the UK referendum in Britain has also had the opposite effect in other European countries. Seeing the chaos brought about in Britain, support for the EU has surged in a number of countries throughout the continent.
Other EU membership referenda ‘unlikely’
Although the surge of support for fringe, often far-right and Eurosceptic parties constitutes a risk to the future of the European project, Morgan Stanley notes that it is unlikely that referenda on the EU membership will be held in other EU countries. Rather, a higher risk lies in the possibility of referenda on the new EU treaties (emphasis ours):
“Risks appear more linked to referendums on a ratification of a new EU treaty or other EU-related issues, rather than questioning the EU membership outright, as support for EU membership appears fairly rooted. Only 21% of the people surveyed by Ipsos MORI in nine EU countries wanted to leave the EU… Even where protest parties are gaining momentum, it appears unlikely that they will garner sufficient votes to muster a majority.”
Though Morgan Stanley did point out that the risk of a referendum was higher in countries where they are called by garnering signatures rather than by the ruling parties. It also mentioned that governments might be inclined to organise referenda to counteract the “perception that the EU is an ‘elite-driven’ project,” as it notes that notion has been lingering since the start of the recession as “voters increasingly associat[e] the EU project with austerity, rather than a source of union and prosperity.”
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