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Watching Extremism: Rise Of The European Right


After the initial shock of the attacks last year, attention in Norway and beyond turned toward the radical, ideological views that allegedly motivated Breivik. For years, analysts have been tracking the rise of extreme right-wing parties across Europe, many of them crossing over into mainstream politics and winning elected office. In next week's French presidential election, the National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, is campaigning for what she's calling economic patriotism.

For more on the rise of Europe's far right movements, I'm joined by Dr. Matt Goodwin at the London think-tank Chatham House.

Dr. Goodwin, thanks for joining us.

DR. MATT GOODWIN: No problem.

MARTIN: You argue that there are signs that extremist right-wing ideology sentiment is making its way into mainstream politics all over Europe. Where is this happening?

GOODWIN: Well, I think if we look across Europe today we can see center-right parties really co-opting far-right issues and narratives. If we look at the French presidential campaign at the moment, we can see a classic example of a center-right party and Nicolas Sarkozy beginning to talk very stridently about issues such as immigration, Islam, very specific topics like Halal meat, and using those as a cue or a message to far right voters. And also as a way of reinfencing his own support base.

But it's not only in France. I think if we look across also Scandinavia, Germany and Italy, even in the U.K., we're seeing political elites talking tough on immigration, the need to curtail immigration; trying to connect with voters who are, put simply, deeply concerned about these issues.

MARTIN: You just talked about how mainstream political parties are co-opting the message of the far right. But are there examples in Europe of the far-right parties themselves are making inroads where they haven't before?

GOODWIN: Yeah. Well, that's a real interesting question because, really, what we've seen since the 1980s is the growth of a far-right political family in Europe. But that has not emerged at the same rate across every European country. Some of the earlier successful parties came in France, in Austria, in Italy.

Over the last three or four years, however, we've seen the emergence of new organizations in countries such as Sweden and Finland, you know, countries that historically have not really had in the postwar era successful far right political movements and organizations.

MARTIN: A lot of this you're saying really is part of the aftermath of September 11th and the rise of Islamic extremism.

GOODWIN: Well, yeah. I mean in the aftermath of 9/11, we saw European publics generally become more concerned over not only Islam, but also security generally. But it was also I think a response to a new wave of immigration into Europe. Public concern over these issues are really begins to take off in the late 1990s, slightly before 9/11. And then, of course, that accentuates this trend.

MARTIN: Are there real moves being made to fix these problems?

GOODWIN: Well, I think all far right groups in Europe are a symptom of underlying deeper trends. So, I think that immediately brings us to the question, well, how can we deal with those underlying grievances around issues of immigration, rising diversity and increasingly the perceived role in compatibility of Islam within European societies.

I think the big challenge that we're going to see over the next 10 years is the rise of far-right groups and networks in Central and Eastern Europe. And the reason that's important is because these countries are quite new to democracy. They don't have a rich tradition of liberal representative democracy.

But if you look, for example, at countries like Hungary, where you have a very active, quite popular far-right scene that also has connections to paramilitary wings and groups, there are real reasons to actually look to the east of Europe when considering the future of the far right.

MARTIN: Dr. Matt Goodwin, at the London think tank Chatham House. Dr. Goodwin, thanks so much.

GOODWIN: That's great. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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