While the far right is on the rise in (almost) all European countries, it is clear that the threat of the return – or the arrival – of a far-right regime with authoritarian aspirations no longer strikes fear into the hearts of voters.
The Italian elections are a case in point: One almost has the impression that the more the left calls the right-wing coalition ‘fascist’, the stronger the latter becomes. Many voters think such accusations verge on the ridiculous.
That far-right parties dredge up nostalgia for the Mussolini or Petainist years is not in dispute. And the fascist right has never totally disappeared from European societies.
But their connivance when it comes to authoritarian ideologies – those of the past as well as of the present, like in the case of Vladimir Putin’s regime, which has so fascinated both Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini – no longer repels ordinary voters.
So whose fault is it? No doubt the new generations – and I am one of them – no longer have the memory or the historical culture, and therefore the understanding, of what it means to establish an extreme regime – on the right as well as on the left.
Memories that are no longer living but come only from history books may be disturbing when they are taught at school, but they seem to belong to another time.
“Today it would not be possible,” we hear when the spectre of fascism is evoked.
Probably not, or not in the same way.
Obviously, Giorgia Meloni, the frontrunner in the Italian election, will not establish a fascist regime should she win. Similarly, Marine Le Pen, if she were to become president, would not establish a Petainist regime. To think that they would is delusional.
But still, the rest of the political class bears a heavy responsibility for allowing the far right to shed its image as an unacceptable or undesirable political force.
The right has, without exception and throughout Europe, embraced the rhetoric of the far right in order to steal voters away from them.
But some right-wing parties also chose to form alliances, before or after the elections, with the far-right, thus opening the doors of power to them.
The original sin was committed by Silvio Berlusconi as early as 1994, when he called into the government the Alleanza Nazionale party, the successor of the fascist MSI party and forerunner of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia.
The left, for its part, today has almost no hold on the working classes, its traditional voter base.
The Italian Democratic Party is the first choice among managers and professionals and voters earning more than €3,000 a month and is perceived as a party whose main objective is to stay in power.
Meanwhile, Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia dominates among workers and pensioners.
The debate on the “value of work” within the French left also shows this disconnect between left-wing politicians and the primary needs of citizens.
The centre, on the other hand, brings together either those who are enthusiastic about Emmanuel Macron’s project, for example, or moderates who reject radicalism but are disappointed by the weakness of the moderate parties of the right and the left.
Thus, when the centrist gamble does succeed and the centre acquires the monopoly on moderation, it leaves scorched earth in its wake: Its competitors become radicalised in order to differentiate themselves and extremes become the only viable alternative.
And then, it turns out, the voter prefers the original to the copy.
And it is at this point that the mistake of the political opponents of the extreme right occurs: In dismay, they summon the fascist or authoritarian imagination in an attempt to convince voters not to give their vote to such a political formation.
Fundamental debates – which can impact people’s daily lives – are then neglected by politicians and the media.
And yet there is no shortage of them: restriction, or even virtual denial, of the rights of women and the LGBT community, the creation of a flat tax that serves the interests of the rich, restriction of social protection for foreigners, belief in the conspiracy theories of the “great replacement”, or more recently, the refusal to condemn the attacks on the rule of law in Hungary.
Instead of focusing on policy, moderate parties too often cry extremism. And it is not working.
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Look out for…
- College of Commissioners discusses the revision of the firearms regulation.
- European Economic and Social Committee discusses EU health and care policy as well as SMEs.
- European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans participates in the UN Global Early Warning Initiative to Implement Climate Adaptation.
- Committee of the Regions holds stakeholder consultation on transition towards sustainable energy with a focus on coal and energy-intensive regions.
- Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in Global Fund Pledging Conference chaired by US President Joe Biden.
Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Benjamin Fox]