Facing the New Far Right in Southern Europe. Analysing the Rise of the Extreme Right After the Financial Crisis

The new publication, edited by Coppieters Foundation and Fundació nexe, analyses the development of right-wing parties in southern EU countries – specifically in Italy, Spain and France. It looks at their history since the end of the 1970s but focuses mainly on more recent developments after the financial and economic crisis of 2008–2009.

In contrast to the right-wing populist parties and parties of the extreme right in Western European countries, above all in the Netherlands, France and Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden, the extreme right was relatively weak in southern Europe until 2014, with the exception of Italy and to some extent Greece. It was only as a result of the neoliberal responses to the Great Recession following the financial and economic crisis that new, right-wing parties also developed in Spain and Portugal, appearing in elections for the first time in 2019 and gaining more and more political influence in the following years. 

In order to better understand these developments, two foundations, Coppieters and Fundació nexe, organised a seminar on the analysis of right-wing parties in 2019 when evaluating the European elections. Their contributions were further processed and summarised in a 2021 publication, which is now available. 

While the historical periods of the right-wing parties’ development are once again outlined in the introduction, the contributions regarding the individual countries refer primarily to the last ten years. They look at the framework conditions of the rapid rise of new right-wing parties in the southern EU countries and the new formation of the heterogeneously composed party family of the extreme right, with its abilities to adapt and mobilise to the new post-2010 conditions. Fundamental similarities and common principles within this extreme right-wing party family are explained with a view to their programme, ideological orientation and setting of priorities. However, differences and potential for division will also be highlighted, which, for example, can be seen in the individual demarcation from or affiliation with historical fascism, such as in Italy, or in the support for either nationalist central-state orientation or separatist efforts (Lega Nord). 

The fundamentally nationalist orientation of the parties of the extreme right (which can be based not only on parties but also on social movements and, as in Italy, also on a right-wing subculture) appears traditionally to be related to one’s own nation. All right-wing parties, according to the findings of the country studies, are characterised by a disdain for or rejection of democracy as a form of society and rule, the rejection of asylum and refugee policy, and also the rejection of feminism, including self-determination over one’s own body, the rejection of abortion and the rejection of the rights of minorities in a diverse multicultural open society. Right-wing parties describe themselves as a national protective power that is conscious of tradition, rejecting libertarian values and feminism in the same way as ecological action or sustainability. 

One of the book’s findings is that the collapse of party systems as in Italy or the implosion of previously strong popular parties – especially the neoliberal conservatives – promoted the development of the extreme right. While in Italy the development of the right-wing parties is closely related to the upheavals in the political system, in France the erosion and implosion of the parties, and in particular the increasing weakness and binding power of the conservative parties, increased the social influence of the leading Front National, while the political system remained fundamentally unchanged. Only under these conditions, with simultaneous “modernisation”, a new name, and proclaimed distance from traditional fascism, did Marine Le Pen succeed in expanding the social scope of the right into the social centre. The history of Vox in Spain, which emerged as a right-wing split from the conservative party, is different. The Spanish example reveals another line of conflict which, on the one hand, may lead to the emergence of right-wing parties and, on the other hand, highlights differences between the right-wing parties themselves. For example, Vox rejects any regional sovereignty of Catalonia or the Basque country, in contrast to the earlier orientation of the Italian Lega Nord, which stood for a regional secession of the rich regions of Italy. 

The central guiding question of what impact the financial crisis of 2008 had on these parties is systematically pursued in the book. It offers some clues in this regard, using the examples of developments in Italy, France and Spain:  

  • The fundamental upheavals of societies as a result of global crises of neoliberal globalisation: the neoliberals’ unfulfilled promise of freedom and their inability to react appropriately to social crises and the intensification of those crises;
  • the increasing complexity of society and policies which strengthen society:
  • the weakening of the social roots of democratic systems as a result of the neoliberal policy of reducing and dismantling welfare state structures and safeguards;
  • the weakening commitment of voters to traditional social democratic and, even more so, conservative parties, whose weak ability to attract voters has been visible, above all, looking at the losses in elections in recent years; also, voting for parties of the extreme right has long since ceased to be taboo and has reached the centre of society;
  • the increasing weight of migration and ecological issues;
  • the increasing weight of struggles for regional sovereignty;
  • the relationship between the nation state and the autonomy of the regions, and
  • the new role of privatised mass media. 

There are differences with regard to the various actors of extreme right-wing parties, which, especially in Italy, can additionally rely on a right-wing subculture such as Casa Pound, from which new impulses to strengthen the political right repeatedly emanate. While some of the newly formed right-wing parties such as the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) refer directly to the fascist heritage of the party, France’s Rassemblement National tends to distance itself by reinterpreting the nationalist heritage of its “law and order policies” directed against refugees, migrants, feminists and the recognition of the rights of minorities. 

Facing the New Far Right in Southern Europe: Analysing the Rise of the Extreme Right After the Financial Crisis
Contributors: Oscar Barberà (coord-), Manuela Caiani, Tiagoe Carvalho, Camille Kelbel, Maria Elisabetta Lanzone, Riccardo Machi, Marco Lisi, Anna Lopez, Marc Borràs, Juan Rodriguez Teruel, Beatriz Gallardo, Paúls, Idoa Arreaza.
Edited by: Coppieters Foundation | Fundació nexe
2021 | 240 pages
published in English and Spanish 

The book can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF file here.