What does “far-right” mean? Is it defined purely by street violence, skinheads and Nazi salutes? Or can populist radical right political parties also be accurately described as being on the far-right of the political spectrum? Much of their political rhetoric is, after all, often strikingly similar to the “old far-right”, even if their methods may be different. Today they wear smart suits instead of jackboots.
In Germany, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party’s rhetoric has been described as being “tinged with Nazi overtones”. Yet they were being described as “kingmakers” earlier this month after a shock state election result, following which Angela Merkel’s CDU accepted their support (causing the subsequent resignation of the CDU’s national party leader and public condemnation from Chancellor Merkel herself).
Far-right populism has reached the mainstream. According to some analysts, three of the largest democracies in the world (India, the US, and Brazil) now have far-right populist leaders. Radical right-wing populists have experience in government in several EU Member States, either alone or in coalition with other parties. Has the far-right changed politics?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Imposant arguing that far-right parties are redefining Europe’s political landscape by forcing traditional parties to adopt far-right policies. Is he right?
To get a reaction, we spoke to German Green MEP Hannah Neumann. What would she say?
For another perspective, we also spoke to Patrick Fels, who works for the non-governmental organisation Mobile Counselling against Rightwing Extremism (MBR) at the National Socialism Documentation Centre of the City of Cologne. How would he respond to Imposant’s comment?
I don’t think we can make such a broad generalisation. It’s certainly true that far-right parties are influencing the public debate and shifting what is acceptable to say further and further. In certain countries, where these parties are already in office, we can indeed say that they influence politics. Of course, if they are in government, then they are determining policies. But in other countries, where they are in opposition or don’t play such a big role, it might look different. One would have to look more closely at individual countries to give a precise answer. I find the statement a bit too general.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Giannis, who thinks mainstream politics is also changing the far-right. After all, Giannis argues, far-right parties have been part of coalition governments in many EU countries for years now. Might the danger from the far-right be reduced by their transformation into serious political parties, forcing them to confront the challenges and compromises of government?
We also put the same comment to Patrick Fels from the counter-extremism organisation MBR. What would he say?
Giannis is also asking a very general question. Here, it would again be necessary to examine individual political parties and politicians. Needless to say, there are many ‘disappointed conservatives’ who turn to the far-right, whose earlier convictions might potentially influence the far-right. Then you might say: ‘Ok, then maybe the far-right will become more moderate’, but it’s also possible for them abandon all their earlier beliefs and turn instead to the far-right. Interactions between the [far-right and centre-right] can certainly go both ways. But, again, I would say it would be necessary to specify a particular country, party or politician.
Are far-right parties redefining Europe’s political landscape? Or are the far-right being forced to adapt to traditional politics? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!