Europe’s new far right: fear or fantasy?

On Saturday 20th October from 5.15pm till 6.30pm, the Institute of Ideas presented ‘Europe’s new far right, fear or fantasy?‘ at the Pit Theatre

A Battle for Europe/Time to Talk debate.

Many have started to sound alarm bells about the rise of right-wing parties across Europe. In addition to the right’s victories in Hungary’s national elections in 2011, groups from Golden Dawn in Greece to Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France have been making electoral gains, while street groups like the English Defence League have generated many headlines. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has not been alone in warning of ‘a whole range of nationalist, xenophobic and extreme movements increasing across the European Union’. There is widespread concern in political and media circles that a ‘decontaminated’ breed of far-right groups are starting to gain acceptance and a purchase among the European public, who are attracted by their ‘populist’ policies. As Corrado Passero, Italy’s minister of economic development, declared earlier this year, ‘Our worst enemy right now is populism’.

Yet while some fearfully quote Yeats’ warning that “the centre cannot hold”, others query whether, taken together, such groups express much coherence as a far-right ‘movement.’ In an attempt to account for the initial collapse of the centre-left in the aftermath of the financial crisis, some argue that right-wing parties are merely riding a surge of popular hostility to technocratic austerity measures, rather than gaining a genuine political foothold. In France, for example, Sarkozy’s opportunistic co-opting of Le Pen’s rhetoric could not swing the election in his favour; while the EDL do not even have the BNP’s one-time political prominence. Yet the heated debate generated by lone outrages, such as that of Anders Breivik and Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah, are tragic reminders that tensions over immigration and identity are common across Europe.

Is there such a thing as a ‘new European far-right’ or is there a greater danger of scaremongering and exaggeration? Are fears over the rise of the right a product of reading the present in terms of past reactions to economic crises? Is it the case that democracy – even with unsavoury elements involved – is worth defending over a supposedly enlightened, unelected technocracy? How does today’s brand of populism differ from older popular political movements? Is there a genuine threat in unstable times that fringe populism could go mainstream?

‘Europe’s new far right?’ debate


Jamie Bartlett
Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media and Head of their Violence and Extremism programme, Demos; author, The New Face of Digital Populism and Inside the English Defence League

Dr Thierry Baudet
Teacher, Leiden Law School; columnist, NRC Handelsblad; author, The Significance of Borders: why representative government and the rule of law require nation states

Matthew Goodwin
Associate Professor in politics, University of Nottingham; author, New British Fascism: rise of the British National Party

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, Daily Telegraph; co-author, No Means No


Patrick Hayes
Journalist and political commentator, spiked; columnist, Huffington Post and Free Society

Produced by:

Patrick Hayes
Journalist and political commentator, spiked; columnist, Huffington Post and Free Society

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