The Rise of Far-Right Politics in Europe

Published by

Pritika Patel


September 24, 2023

Inquiry-driven, this article reflects personal views, aiming to enrich problem-related discourse.

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In recent years, Europe has seen a surge of far-right political movements and parties. From Italy to Sweden to France, conservative bases have been steadily growing and spreading their influence. Marked by their fervent nationalistic and often anti-immigrant rhetoric, left-wing politicians and political analysts have expressed great concern as more right-wing politicians are elected to prominent positions.

The term "far right" encapsulates a diverse range of political ideologies, parties, and movements that share certain commonalities, such as conservative or traditional values, nationalism, and a desire for minimal government intervention in one’s personal life. The allure of far-right politics often rests on its promise to address the anxieties and grievances of segments of the population that feel left behind by a rapid pace of change. Economic uncertainty, rising income inequality, and job insecurity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and troubles with the European Union have left many individuals discontented with the traditionally dominant political parties. As such, many people have expressed their support for newly emerging political parties, the majority of which have been far-right ones. 

The European radical right can be divided into two main categories: the old parties of neo-fascist origin and the newer populist ones. Both are based on strong leadership, hierarchical organizations and a radicalized activist rank-and-file. However, there are various distinguishing factors between the two. For example, older parties of neo-fascist origin tend to have a more rigid ideological stance and may openly endorse concepts like racial superiority, authoritarianism, and authoritarian nationalism.These parties often appeal to a narrower and more ideologically committed voter base, consisting of individuals with extreme right-wing views. Policies often span a larger conservative agenda, including explicit white supremacy and ethnonationalism. On the other hand, newer populist parties often adopt a more moderate public image, distancing themselves from the more explicitly extremist ideologies of older parties. These parties tend to focus on anti-immigration, anti-globalization, and anti-establishment themes while downplaying overtly racist or extremist rhetoric. Populist radical right parties aim to attract a broader base of support, including working-class voters and those who are dissatisfied with mainstream politics. As such, they often frame their policy stances, including strict immigration control, national sovereignty, and protectionist economic policies in terms of defending the interests of the "common people" against perceived elites and outsiders.

Historical Context 

Early fascism became prominent in the years after World War I. Initially, the fascist movement took a stronghold in Benito Mussolini’s Italy, as his regime swiftly consolidated power by suppressing political opposition, curbing press freedoms, and dismantling democratic institutions. The Fascist Party also established a pervasive surveillance apparatus to monitor citizens' activities and opinions. A crucial tool in maintaining control was propaganda, which glorified Mussolini as a charismatic leader and portrayed fascism as the embodiment of national greatness. By the interwar period, this propaganda spread wide and far and other nations including Germany adopted more radical right political stances. Germany soon overtook Italy as the dominant fascist regime in Europe, with the Nazi Party under the leadership of Adolf Hitler gaining control. 

However, the consequences of World War II highlighted the dangers of extreme far-right ideologies and as such, there was a decline in nationalistic sentiment. The atrocities committed by the Nazi regime demonstrated the potential for unchecked nationalism to lead to genocide and widespread human suffering. The trauma of the war and the horrors of the Holocaust cast a long shadow over European consciousness, contributing to a collective commitment to prevent the recurrence of such horrors. It wasn't until the 1960s that the Far Right again began to rise again, becoming a more dominant force with the formation of anti-democratic groups and political parties including France's Front National, Austria's Freedom Party, and the UK's National Front, which joined most of the post-war extreme right groups in the UK under one neo-fascist umbrella. 

As Europe embraced globalization and experienced increased immigration in the following decades, the far-right adapted its narrative to exploit concerns about cultural integration, job displacement, and security. The most recent iteration of right-wing extremism, the alt-right, continues the fixation on conspiracy, race, and white supremacy created by the extreme right-wing groups that came before it, but differs in its lack of a physical place, with its followers communicating almost entirely online via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Parties such as France's National Rally, Alternative for Germany, and the Sweden Democrats have used social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, to reach a wider audience and mobilize supporters, tapping into online forums, including far-right and extremist websites, to engage with their base and share propaganda. Some European far-right parties have also adopted conspiracy theories related to global elites, portraying them as puppet masters who control world events to the detriment of the "common people. These parties have also promoted conspiracy theories regarding immigration, framing it as part of a broader plan to undermine national identity and culture. In recent years, the movement has been particularly bolstered by the emergence of the alt-right in the United States. Transnational connections among like-minded groups have formed, allowing far-right European parties to draw inspiration from their American counterparts. 


The post-fascism movement first began in Italy in 1946, as The Italian Social Movement, or MSI, was founded by Giorgio Almirante, a chief of staff in Mussolini’s last government. It drew fascist sympathizers and officials into its ranks following Italy’s role in the war, when it was allied with the Nazis and then liberated by the Allies. Throughout the 1950-1980s, the MSI remained a small right-wing party, polling in the single digits. The 1990s brought about a change under Gianfranco Fini, Almirante’s protege who projected a new moderate face of the Italian right. When Fini ran for Rome mayor in 1993, he won a surprising 46.9% of the vote — not enough to win, but enough to establish himself on a national scale. Within a year, Fini had renamed the MSI the National Alliance. 

Giorgia Meloni, the current prime minister of Italy, first joined the MSI’s youth branch and went on to lead the youth branch of Fini’s National Alliance. Meloni co-founded Italy’s current major right-wing party, Brothers of Italy in 2012, naming it after the first words of the Italian national anthem. The party has at the center of its logo the red, white and green flame of the original MSI that remained when the movement became the National Alliance.

Since her victory in September of 2022, Meloni has made significant political decisions regarding her domestic and foreign policy. On a global scale, Meloni has staunchly, and consistently, supported Ukraine and its right to defend itself against Russian aggression and has vowed to supply Kyiv with arms if she were prime minister. But her coalition partners — Matteo Salvini, the firebrand leader of the League, and the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi — have shown themselves partial to Mr. Putin, questioning sanctions and echoing his propaganda.

Domestically, she has cracked down on immigration reform. In April, Italy’s Senate passed the first comprehensive immigration package, which curbed integration efforts, created new government-controlled migrant centers to house those waiting on asylum applications and more detention facilities, as well as established harsher punishment for people smugglers. Under the new policies, migrants have to stay in the centers until their asylum applications are processed, which can take up to two years in Italy. While they wait, they are not able to seek independent lodging and will have a hard time beginning any organic form of integration into communities. Immigration has long been a contentious political issue in Italy for decades. Although the coronavirus pandemic significantly slowed arrivals in recent years, the number of migrants coming ashore in Italy has quadrupled this year, increasing political tension. More than 34,700 migrants have arrived so far in Italy, compared with 8,600 in the same period in 2022. Throughout her campaign, Meloni affirmed various intentions to curb immigration, which she has made progress on. 


Formed in 1988, the Sweden Democrats began as a minor political player, but over time, they have managed to establish themselves as a notable force in Swedish politics. The rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats to become the country’s second-largest party, with a claim to government, has been a slow-moving earthquake over the past decades. Once considered an extremist party, the Sweden Democrats took 20.6 percent of the vote in the 2022 election. The Sweden Democrats have been gaining political ground for some time now, much like other Nordic far-right populist parties, including the Danish People’s Party and Norway’s Progress Party. But the Sweden Democrats, founded in 1988 with roots in neo-Nazism, are closer to the parties of Marine Le Pen in France and Giorgia Meloni in Italy. The Sweden Democrats’ showing in the election provided the center right a thin majority of three votes in Parliament and prompted the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Magdalena Andersson, to resign, throwing Sweden into several weeks of political maneuvering. Ultimately, a coalition government spearheaded by the Sweden Democrats was established. 

The Sweden Democrats' policy positions reflect a blend of conservative and nationalist ideologies, with a primary focus on immigration and national identity. The party advocates for restrictive immigration policies with the aim of reducing the number of incoming asulyum seekers and immigrants. For instance in July, the party announced its backing of a proposed bill to offer temporary residence permits for asylum seekers rather than permanent residency. To further restrict entry, the bill also seeks to make it more difficult to obtain residence permits on humanitarian grounds and proposes to raise the age limit for refusing residence permits for spouses or cohabitants from 18 to 21 years. The party also calls for compulsory measures for immigrants to be employed, learn the Swedish language, be put through an assimilation program, and be subject to a language and social skills test before becoming eligible for citizenship. The Sweden Democrats advocate for a cultural policy that strips funding for multicultural initiatives and strengthen support for traditional Swedish culture. This agenda has often manifested itself as opposition to state funding of immigrant cultural organisations and festivals, and support for traditional Swedish craft, folk music, and folk dance groups. 

Recently, public desecrations of the Quran in Sweden have provoked riots, caused a diplomatic crisis, and placed the country, long regarded as peaceful and tolerant, under an international spotlight. Members of the Swedish Democrats have taken a more hard-line view. “We have nothing to learn from the Muslim countries,” Richard Jomshof, a lawmaker from the party, wrote on Twitter. “That they should be allowed to lecture us about democracy and freedom of expression is, to say the least, strange and downright laughable.” The governments of many predominantly Islamic countries, including Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, have issued withering denunciations of the Swedish authorities for allowing such desecrations of the Muslim holy book. The Swedish government has condemned the recent anti-Muslim acts, but the authorities say that the country’s laws on freedom of speech mean there is little they can do to prevent them. In mid-July, hundreds of people stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad and set parts of it ablaze after a protester in Stockholm burned a Quran the previous month. Iraq also expelled the Swedish ambassador and directed his Iraqi counterpart to withdraw from the country’s embassy in Stockholm. 


Following the damages of World War II, France’s national identity underwent a profound transformation as it transitioned from a colonial empire to a Western republic, “defending itself” against communist values. Amidst these shifts, far-right movements began to emerge, offering nostalgic narratives of a bygone era and promising a restoration of national pride. Organizations like the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) opposed Algerian independence, while Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front emerged as a political force in the 1970s, emphasizing anti-immigrant sentiment and nationalist values. The OAS was created in February 1961 under the leadership of Colon activists Pierre Lagaillarde and Jean-Jacques Susini, emerging as a reaction to the French government's decision to negotiate with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) for Algeria's independence. Comprising largely of French settlers and military personnel, the OAS vehemently opposed decolonization and engaged in violent campaigns against both Algerian nationalists and the French government. 

The echoes of the OAS's far-right ideologies and tactics can be traced in the modern rise of far-right sentiments in France. While not a direct lineage, modern far-right movements, like the National Rally (formerly the National Front), often espouse nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments, advocating for the protection of French identity against perceived threats from multiculturalism and globalization. The OAS's use of violence is also seen in the aggressive rhetoric and actions of some modern far-right groups, including Génération Identitaire (Generation Identity) and Bloc Identitaire. These groups employ provocative strategies to gain attention and promote their agendas, exploiting societal fears and concerns around issues such as immigration, terrorism, and cultural preservation.

Similarly, founded by Le Pen in 1972, the National Front emerged as a far-right political party that challenged the established political order in France. He established the party as a response to his perceived dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties, aiming to provide an alternative for others who also felt marginalized by France’s existing political system. In its early years, the National Front focused on issues such as law and order, anti-immigration sentiment, and French nationalism. Over time, the National Front underwent a transformation, shifting its focus toward more extreme far-right positions. Le Pen's leadership introduced rhetoric and policies that centered on anti-immigrant sentiment, nationalism, and euroskepticism. The party aimed to protect what it saw as the traditional French way of life, particularly in the face of globalization, multiculturalism, and European integration.The National Front's rise was marked by controversies that often revolved around Le Pen's statements, which were frequently criticized as xenophobic, racist, and discriminatory. Despite these controversies, the party managed to gain electoral support, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. 

Jean-Marie Le Pen's leadership came to an end when his daughter, Marine Le Pen, took over the party's leadership in 2011. Marine Le Pen sought to moderate the party's image and broaden its appeal by distancing it from some of the more controversial positions held by her father. The National Front was rebranded as the National Rally (Rassemblement National) in 2018, reflecting an effort to soften the party's image while maintaining its core ideologies. Le Pen has also positioned herself as an economic populist, seeking to attract working-class voters from across the political spectrum, caring little if they identify as right or left. Today, the party is gaining more success than ever before. In November 2022, Le Pen stepped down as leader of the National Rally in order to devote her attention to the party’s parliamentary group. Jordan Bardella became the first person from outside the Le Pen family to lead the National Rally in half a century. In the meantime, the party has gained 89 deputies, two vice-presidencies, and claimed seats on the defense and intelligence committees. 

In terms of political stances, the National Rally has centered itself on protectionist economic policies and euroskepticism. During her presidential run, Le Pen ran on a platform of  dropping the euro currency, vowing to re-negotiate France’s relationship with the European Union. Among her policy pledges were a tax on French companies that hire foreign workers and a requirement that retailers stock a certain percentage of French products. The party has also been in support of a movement known as “Frexit,” a referendum for France to leave the European Union. The party has also closely aligned itself with the French principle of laïcité, advocating for the strict separation of religion from the state and public institutions. The law draws its origins in 1905,  when it was designed to curb the powers of the Catholic Church of the clergy. Today, the National Rally has championed the ideal, supporting bans on on religious symbols, including the wearing of headscarves or hijabs, in public spaces. 

The Future  

As Europe navigates the complex currents of the 21st century, the future of far-right politics remains a subject of intense speculation and concern. The resurgence of far-right sentiments across the continent has triggered debates about the trajectory of democratic societies, the balance between national identity and global interconnectedness, and the potential impact on social cohesion. The embrace of populist rhetoric and appeals to national identity are key aspects of the “far-right appeal,” as populist leaders frame themselves as champions of the "people" against an out-of-touch elite, tapping into grievances related to immigration, cultural change, and perceived loss of sovereignty to supranational institutions. The emphasis on nationalism and cultural preservation especially appeals to those who fear the erosion of their traditional way of life. Throughout Europe, far-right rhetoric has dramatically increased, targeting economic strife and immigration, and has gained great political success. As for the near future, many political analysts predict more far-right leaders being elected into office as the left declines. Further down the road, however, they believe that the political pendulum will shift back towards the left and continue to swing back and forth between the two ideologies. 

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Pritika Patel

Policy Associate - YIP News

As a policy associate for the YIP News Team, Pritika is passionate about various social justice movements and hopes to make a difference through spreading awareness about current events and politics in a nonpartisan manner.

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