Gradual Shift of France, EU towards Right:...
As the dust from the French election finally settles, the heavily racist rhetoric that propelled several political campaigns shows no sign of abating.
However, the rise of the far-right National Rally (RN) party and its greater prominence in the French parliament makes one thing very clear: It is now perfectly acceptable to be an unapologetic racist. Moreover, as prejudiced rhetoric becomes a political fixture both in France and across the bloc, alongside an ever-shrinking civil society, Europe is setting a disturbing tone.
Over the last few years, several civil society organizations in France, particularly those defending the civil rights of Muslims, have been dissolved under the instructions of Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin, with no judicial review. The highest administrative court, Le Conseil d’Etat, has also repeatedly sided with Darmanin, and outside the shrinking civic space, ordinary people have been targeted by French authorities. So much for the objective and independent functioning of the French judiciary system.
With France’s far right now holding 89 seats in the National Assembly — an unprecedented 11-fold increase —the Collective for Countering Islamophobia in Europe, a Belgium-based civil society organization, declared, “the normalization of far-right rhetoric by the presidential party has allowed Le Rassemblement National to become the real winner of this election.” And efforts to stomp on the fundamental rights of minorities will only increase further.
At this point, however, the French government seems to think that the liberation of its Muslim population is a greater threat. “Not only does the presidential party assume its Islamophobic stances and laws, but some of its members have also now stated they may ‘move forward together with the RN,’ and even doubt whether it is a far-right party,” the organization warned.
In another development, the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (CNCDH, French organization which monitors the respect of human rights) in its annual report on the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, published on July 18, underlined the "continued prevalence of discriminatory behaviors" on the basis of real or assumed background, religion or skin color in France.
This year, as France celebrates the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the law of July 1, 1972, which penalizes "racist insult and defamation" and "incitement to discrimination, hatred or racial violence," as well as the 51st anniversary of the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the CNCDH said that "stigmatizing discourse with racist and xenophobic overtones has not completely disappeared."
However, France is not isolated in this matter either. There has been a consistent failure to address the growing threat of the far-right movement on a European level too. And the resulting effect is a gradual shift of European Union politics toward the right, and a normalization of racism and discrimination.
Two things in the last few days merit a closer look — a reminder to check up on the progress of the far right in Europe. In Italy, the third-largest economy of the eurozone, the fascist Brothers of Italy party has taken the lead in the polls ahead of next month’s snap election. Meanwhile, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, who is no stranger to racist comments, vented that Western Europe was a “mixed-race world,” in contrast to Hungary.
Therefore, the far right is very much alive in terms of political parties. Nearly every parliament in the EU has far-right representation, giving legitimacy to views that should never be mainstreamed.
What has really changed is the largely online ecosystem the far right occupies. In the cyberworld, a large number of leaderless transnational networks of individuals are flourishing. These are the information warriors of hate. As well as spreading hate, they also promote damaging, fact-free conspiracy theories. These circulate until amplified by super-sharers and major influencers.
What might all this mean?
Firstly, anti-immigrant sentiment has escalated in recent years, with many on the extreme right craving a “white-only” society. Ukrainian refugees have largely been welcomed, but this generosity is no longer extended to Afghan or Syrian refugees, for example.
Secondly, anti-Muslim sentiment continues to escalate. Support for the far right is emblematic of that but, as with immigration, it lures the more centrist parties to take harsher positions on these issues. With respect to attitudes toward Muslims, a 2020 poll found Hungarians (52 percent) are the most negative, followed by Sweden (47 percent) and Poland (43 percent).
Thirdly, the success of such ideologies heightens fears of far-right violence and terrorism. The number of far-right attacks has increased in recent years. One study recorded a 320 percent rise in far-right terrorism incidents in the West, including in Europe, between 2013 and 2018.
As the global economic crisis kicks in, the dangers are clear. Far-right movements are poised to seize every opportunity to market their hate and exploit the growing climate of despair. The traditional political forces will have to up their game.