May 23, 2014 by Nebi Mema
Throughout history, we’ve witnessed the ascension of fringe political parties into power when their economies were in prolonged downturn and their citizens were unhappy. The Bolsheviks ousting the unpopular Czar and the Nazis taking over the provisional government are two of the most popular and more extreme examples in recent history. This phenomenon is still true today. Across Europe, general elections are being held in what’s seen as a reaction to economic hardship. The rise of fringe parties is best exemplified in the United Kingdom Independence Party. They’re projected to win many local elections in the United Kingdom against traditional powers, the Labour Party and the Conservatives. Their party’s beliefs can be described as anti-immigration, Eurosceptic and right winged.
They essentially capitalize on scapegoating immigrants and the European Union for the U.K.’s financial troubles. What’s even more troubling is that this party has to dodge allegations of racism. This came after featured UKIP broadcaster Andre Lampitt compared Islam to the Third Reich and made other Islamophobic tweets. Their Euroscepticism has gotten to the point where a member of the UKIP recently called for the hanging of pro-European politicians.
The rise of far-right parties isn’t limited to the U.K. Far-right parties that also have been alleged of racism are projected to win close to 20 percent of European elections in France and Scandinavia. Golden Dawn, Greece’s popular extreme far-right party, looks set on winning their first ever Euro seats despite neo-Nazi and racist leanings. France’s National Front has surged in popular opinion polls, capitalizing on the perceived inability of socialist president Francois Hollande to improve the French economy. The founder of the National Front has been convicted of perpetuating racial hatred along with what is tantamount to denying the Holocaust.
The rise of these parties was the result of Europe’s own economic policies that were conceived in Brussels. The European Union engineered its own potential undoing the moment it decided to assist failing economies on conditions that such economies implement austerity measures. The leaders hedged that struggling countries would bounce back economically by cutting spending and increasing taxes. Fire departments, police forces, welfare spending and other services that are vital to the working citizens were the common targets of the plans.
To make it worse, the EU tried to extract more revenue from the very people that it was hurting by these austerity measures, which in this case were those in the poor and middle classes. By implementing that “reform,” they alienated a generation of young people and paved the way for fringe parties among current voters.
Before the euro, countries would let their native currency slide in value to compensate for the sagging economy. Now that there’s one union and one currency, it all lines up like dominoes. When one country shows signs of decline, it inevitably spreads.
From the outside, Germany looked complicit in allowing countries to spend way beyond their means and fall into this economic crisis because they were buying German goods. Germany later told these same countries to quit the outrageous spending habits despite egging them on. Then it spearheaded efforts to increase the exports of eurozone countries.
What happens to be the most disastrous outcome is that one country’s surplus is another country’s deficit. These austerity measures won’t be helping countries for many years to come. According to the European bank Natixis, Spain will reach 2007 unemployment levels by the year 2029 and Portugal by 2036. This of course is hinged on parties like Golden Dawn and UKIP not gaining substantial power in those respective countries and implementing policies that contradict austerity measures in the face of the EU. It seems unlikely that the Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal), which currently suffers from exploding unemployment rates of over 20 percent (over 50 percent for young people) will be able to prevent far right parties from coming to power for over 15 years by the time the unemployment rates calm to pre-recession levels.
To compound the problem, these pro-austerity countries have effectively lost a generation of youth with these policies. It should come as no surprise if tomorrow’s leaders of various European countries are more Eurosceptic than today’s leaders because today’s EU turned its back on them. We certainly can’t blame the citizens of Europe for voting for these extreme parties because they see that the current ones in power are backing fiscal policy, austerity in this case, which is making their lives miserable. Only the European Union and its leaders are to blame for the ascension of UKIP, Golden Dawn, National Front and others across Europe.
Nebi Mema is an accounting major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.