'Economic failure' behind rise of far right in Europe

ANKARA – The success of the right wing in the European elections is connected to many political parties putting the blame for economic failure onto immigrants, experts say.

The serious economic hardships that Europeans face have shaken their sense of security as states are unable to provide the standards of living and services they once did, says Professor Talip Kucukcan, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at Marmara University in Istanbul and editor-in-chief of Insight Turkey, a magazine covering Turkish politics and international affairs. 

The situation has enabled nationalist parties to successfully divert attention onto immigrants, he said, leading to the strong gains in the election of MEPs to the European Parliament during four days of voting which ended on Sunday.

The use by far-right parties of anti-Muslim rhetoric - a continuation of the discourse which has been a source of political capital among Western nations, particularly the US and UK, since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 - and stoking of anger towards immigrants, also reflects a crisis of the "European identity", as the immigrant population becomes more visible in different fields of economic and social life, he said.

Kucukcan also noted: “Most probably far-right parties may not be able to make fundamental changes in their nations, and look to the still-dominant position of the mainstream European parties in the EU parliament as a source of power.

“But the rise of the far-right highlights the fact that basic European values, such as multiculturalism and democracy, are in question."

- Poll resuls 'an earthquake'

In France, Marine Le Pen's far-right party, the anti-immigration Front National (FN), for the first time in French election history overtook all the traditional parties in a national vote, coming top with more than 25 percent of the ballots.

"This result is a shock, an earthquake," declared Manuel Valls, the country’s socialist prime minister.

Turkish sociologist Professor Nilufer Narli said other European countries would normally treat France - where anti-immigrant discourses and anti-Semitic views have long been popular - as a special case in terms of xenophobia, but now the sentiment is spreading across the continent.

She added that the dominant anti-immigrant discourse in France was generally focused on the subjects of “the headscarf and illegal workers, which are regarded among observers as being a reaction to growing unemployment among French people.”

Ekrem Recep Sahin, a 23-year-old student at Strasburg University in Alsace, France, told Anadolu Agency that he was seriously concerned over the rise of the right wing.

He said: "As a foreign student, there is a sense of danger here now.

"I am more concerned about my existence here in France, as anti-racist discourse is socially accepted here.”

- Anti-Muslim discourse

Omer Senturk, a 45-year-old insurance agent who has been living in Strasbourg for more than 20 years, said he felt “threatened” by the popularity of the right wing.

Turkish sociologist Narli said that such anti-immigrant discourse is relatively new in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark - where the far-right Danish People’s Party beat other parties across the nation in the European Parliament elections with 25 per cent of the votes.

She said the anti-immigrant discourse in Europe came into being with the first wave of large numbers of immigrant workers in the region about 30 years ago, and right-wing circles have continued to view immigrants - especially Muslims - as being "resistant" to change and integration and contributing to the "deformity" of European identity.

“In the last 10 years particularly, the perception that Muslim immigrants are somehow resistant to integration has become widely adopted,” Narli said.

She also pointed out that far-right groups used economics as an argument against the acceptance of immigration, with European Union citizens from countries like Romania and Bulgaria suffering increasing prejudice because of their access to social security funds, such as unemployment benefits and healthcare, which are rights for EU citizens.

EU labor markets were opened to Bulgarians and Romanians on 1 January, even though their integration into the union dated back to 2007, which created concerns among the most-developed countries in Europe, which are more dependent on highly skilled labor.

- 'Victory of hatred'

Although, there is much common ground among far-right parties in terms of their anti-EU sentiments and discourses, they are not without their differences, especially in areas such as attitudes towards the rights of homosexuals, Narli said.

But she explained: “The common anti-immigrant attitudes are more dominant and more important than their differences on other issues, so the far-right parties can find ways of acting together across the EU when they concentrate on them."

Ali Gedikoglu, president of the France-based minority rights think tank Cojep International, said the results highlighted a victory of hatred against immigrants, particularly Muslims.

He suggested that the political turmoil in Europe would continue as long as European politicians saw Muslims as the cause of their economic problems.

Gedikoglu stated: “Muslims contributed to the rise of Europe after World War II as much as Christians and Jews did.

"Politicians must start seeing Muslims as part of Europe and as being part of the solution for economic and social problems, instead of presenting them as the problem itself.”

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