Far right’s victory in Italy the latest blow to EU’s legacy of tolerance and liberalism
- Decades of inattention on the part of European leaders are coming home to roost as far-right parties secure stronger support and national office
- The future of the EU as a bastion of post-World-War-II liberal democracy and tolerance is now in jeopardy as Eurosceptic populism surges across the continent
Europe’s political elites think they knows best, much to the anger of their own populace. For decades, leaders across the European Union have not been listening.
EU leaders have not heeded numerous warnings. They have continued to push for EU federalism – profound political, economic and even military unity – despite opinion polls showing significant public opposition and it being one of the key reasons behind Brexit.
A politics of intolerance is now the norm across the EU, but how far to the right is this far right? Some of these parties are more pseudo-fascist than neo-fascist – moderate on some issues but extreme right on one or two others – while others have fascist pasts they claim to reject.
European voters know their history and most shy away from the openly fascist, but they also want new politicians who will take new stances to deal with old yet unresolved problems. Italian experts I have spoken to say Meloni is a political pragmatist determined to separate her party from its fascist roots, thus explaining how she came from the political wilderness to be Italy’s next leader.
What is in no doubt is that Meloni’s election represents a profound political and ideological challenge for the EU. Italy is the EU’s third-largest economy and one of its founding members, and the immediate concern is the impact on Italian support for the EU sanctions imposed on Russia.
EU leaders feel short-term economic pain is an acceptable price to pay to defend Ukraine and, by extension, the wider European continent. They believe public sentiment supports this, but the reality is that individual voters will punish politicians who make their lives worse, no matter what the cause.
In the medium term, EU leaders fear the populations of other European states will now believe far-right parties are an acceptable electoral choice again. It is hard to ignore the feeling that this Pandora’s box has been opened.
Next year, there will be national polls in the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Poland, Spain and Switzerland, as well as regional polls across Germany. These will now be watched with bated breath across the rest of Europe.
Since its rise in the 1930s, the European far right has targeted working-class voters, pushing a narrative that liberal democratic institutions are inherently incapable of providing solutions to working people’s day-to-day needs. Europe’s political elite have failed to learn from this, and again it is the political extremes that will benefit from this.
As the Ukraine war rumbles on and its economic effects further harm the financial standing of Europe’s population, many voters could turn to the right of the right. The future of the EU as a bastion of post-World-War-II liberal democracy and tolerance is now in serious jeopardy.
Hagai M. Segal is a leading authority on geopolitical issues, counterterrorism and the Middle East