Dutch and French anti-Islamists, Hungarian nationalists, Italian separatists, and other anti-establishment voices across the left-right spectrum share a common antagonism to the EU. Because the “European integration process” has been concomitant with the decline of the old continent’s standing on the international scene, Europeans increasingly regard the EU political construct and its “euro” currency with apprehension. Many believe social gaps have widened, and the less industrialized economies have been ruined. Public disillusionment with incumbent governments has motivated some voters to turn to the fringes. High unemployment and the grimmest economic forecasts in decades have created the ideal conditions for single-issue candidates and marginal groups hostile to the EU to win seats in the national and pan-European assemblies.
Timo Lochocki, in a remarkable study supported by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, has identified two components that make right-populist programs appealing to voters: they offer an agenda of defending the alleged “threatened nation” combined with an opportunity to cast a protest vote of general dissatisfaction with the political establishment.
Their programs combine “neo-nationalism”3 with “anti-elitism”: for the nation, against the political establishment. In doing so, they blame the established, moderate parties for any alleged social change – primarily caused by globalization – brought upon the homogenous community of the nation. The prime threats are generally symbolized by immigration and multiculturalism as much as the influence of the European Union on daily life.
While Europe’s right-populist parties have originated in countries with vastly different historical experiences, each frames external influences as a threat to the defining national narrative of its respective country: the Scandinavian right-populists portray immigration and the European Union as a threat to their high level of social security; Geert Wilders campaigns against the alleged religiosity of migrants, which threatens “Dutch tolerance”; Marine Le Pen follows a similar path in framing immigration from Muslim countries as presumably threatening the French “Laïcité,” the separation between church and state. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) derides financial support for troubled southern European economies, portraying this as running counter to the narrative of the industrious, hard-working Germans, who suffered plenty of hardship to address economic challenges themselves.4
Right-populist parties succeeded to frame themselves as the only ones protecting the nation’s cultural core, standing in stark contrast to the “multicultural and pro-European elite-consensus” and protecting the interest of the “common man.” These two uniting narratives (neo-nationalism and anti-elitism) explain why previously mainstream party voters are joining ranks of the new parties.
Following centuries of Christian anti-Judaism and 150 years of modern anti-Jewish propaganda, Jews and Israel are easily associated with the loathed “cosmopolitan global elite,” and Judaism is portrayed as alien to the traditional European core ethos. Both leftist and rightist protest parties have had tenuous relations – although through different rhetoric – with Jews and Israel.