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For populists, nationalists and opponents of the traditional political establishment, 2016 has proven a fruitful year.
The UK And The US Setting The Tone
The seismic shocks of Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential victory not only evince the culmination of public discontent with globalist and liberal politics but also sets a new precedent for future international relations. National elections over the past two years in Europe have witnessed an (almost uniform) growth in the support of right and far-right parties.
In France, nationalist party National Front won 6.8 million votes in regional elections, its largest score in its history. The anti-immigrant and nationalist party of Austria, the Freedom Party, was the front-runner in the opening round of April’s presidential election, winning a sizeable 35% of the popular vote.
This recent lurch to the right is chiefly underpinned by an aversion to immigration, fear of IS, and increasing distrust in the EU and eurozone economy.
Against The Establishment
A Gallup poll of the current stances that European civilians hold is revelatory of the growing scepticism of traditional establishment politics across the continent. 52% of respondents desire lower immigration levels, and when presented with the statement ‘refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in our country’ – 76% of Hungarian citizens and 61% of Germans agreed. Almost two-thirds of Italians view refugees as a ‘burden’ on their country, and as many as 88% of Swedes.
Emboldened by the rising tide of anti-establishmentarianism in the United Kingdom following the successes of UKIP and the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, it appears that Europe’s citizens have swayed towards the right following inadequate migration and economic policies, and some senior ministers’ equivocation on crucial matters.
The two aspects that are correlative with citizens’ recent distrust of status quo politics – immigration and the economy – have both been chaotic and increasingly strained issues over the last decade.
Foreign migration into several European countries has sharply risen in the last three decades; the number of immigrants into Finland has trebled since the year 2000, and the total number of foreign-born citizens in Sweden has increased by over a million since the 1980s. In the UK, total net migration into the UK has increased almost from 177,000 per annum to 335,000 – startlingly doubling in just four years.
The sharp increases in immigration in the past two decades have thus been correlative with increases in membership and popularity of right and far-right parties such as UKIP and Britain First – Brexit an eventual manifestation of mounting discontent.
No surprise then that a 2016 study by the University of Oxford saw immigration come first place in the public’s rankings of ‘most important issues’ in the United Kingdom.
The instability of the eurozone is further contributory to public unease – EU countries have an average debt of a startling 85% of their GDP, and a potentially impending fourth bailout for struggling Greece (which now has an unemployment rate of around 25%) causes understandable trepidation from all EU member states.
As with immigration, Europeans express dissatisfaction at the present outlook of the Eurozone, with around two-thirds of Italian, French and Spanish citizens disapproving of the EU’s handling of the European economy.
Studies by Pew Research reveal that public favorability of the EU is down in five out of the six countries surveyed in 2015 and 2016 – there were double-digit drops in both France and Spain.
The consistent rise in immigration levels and occasional retrograde of the economy are thus directly connected to the surge in right-wing, anti-establishment sentiment in Europe.
The Problems In The US
Across the pond, Donald Trump’s unheralded ascent to the fore of US politics and remarkable victory in the national election – in spite of repeated blunders and verbal swipes at almost all demographics – mirrors the shared grievances held by millions of Americans at the state of the US economy and immigration.
In both continents, the ‘political establishment’ is now seen only as a continuation of globalist and liberal politics and the perceived suppression of ordinary peoples’ voices.
What, then, are the potential options available for liberals and the Left to prevent next year from being even bleaker? Directly and successfully reassuring the public about their greatest concern is the top priority: the stance taken by left-wing parties in combating immigration and terrorism has thus far been perceived as too lukewarm, ineffective and dithering.
The successes of the Left in previous decades had partly been underpinned by the solid foundations of traditional labour-intensive industries and trade union membership. The steady decline of both of these in the last 30 years and upsurge in the middle-class increase in average household wealth and a shift to a services-oriented industry has caused the Left to lose a crucial core of its support.
Too, the substantial progress made in single-issue politics such as gay rights has made support of social-democratic politics less salient than in the past. The ‘lifestyle left’, as one journalist aptly put, no longer sells as well as it once did.
Trends of the past ten years reveal that dangerous fluctuations in the European economy and sharp increases in immigration shall only continue: a study by the IMF shows Europe is expected to receive up to four million new migrants by the end of 2017.
Left-wing and centrist parties in Europe must, therefore, take an introspective approach in assessing their current shortcomings, and conjure an alternative method should they wish to halt the current surge of right-wing support over the next few years – before even attempting to reverse it.