With gains in Italy and Sweden and footholds in Hungary and Poland, right-wing nationalism has been on the rise in Europe in 2022.
Italy Expects Higher Inflation and Slower GDP Growth for 2023
Voters across large parts of Europe have veering to the far right in their quest for changes as they have been battered by surging energy bills and record-high inflation intensified by the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Analysts are still at odds over how big an impact the recent developments will have on European Union (EU) policy making.
LURCH TO RIGHT
Populists on the ideological right have won everlarger shares of the vote in recent legislative elections across Europe, a Pew Research Center analysis said in October.
The most dramatic change occurred in Italy. In September, Giorgia Meloni's right-wing Brothers of Italy party finished first in the national elections, and a month later, she was sworn in as the country's first-ever female prime minister.
Her coalition government now includes the League, another of the country's nationalist parties.
Also in September, the far-right Sweden Democrats became the second-largest party in Sweden's Parliament following the general election.
Right-wing nationalism has also thrived under Viktor Orban in Hungary since 2010. Orban's ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat (KDNP) coalition won a landslide victory in the country's parliamentary elections in April, allowing him to serve as prime minister for the fifth time.
In France, the far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen made record gains in the parliamentary elections, and became the main opposition party in Parliament for the first time. Poland is also governed by a right-wing nationalist coalition.
It appears that young voters tended to "tilt dramatically to the right" in France, Spain and Italy, said an article published on the website of Project Syndicate.
LONGING FOR CHANGE
While each country is obviously different, analysts see a definite trend. The emerging right-wing nationalist parties' "ideologies are satisfying the needs people have at the moment," said Pietro Paganini, a founder of the think tank Competere.
"People see that their institutions, whether in their home countries or particularly in (the European Union's administrative capital of) Brussels are definitely not addressing their problems, so they tend to take the opposite positions," Paganini said.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is taking a rising toll on Europe's economies, which face a "toxic mix of high inflation and flagging growth," Alfred Kammer, director of the European Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), wrote in a blog in October.
"High energy price pressures, erosion of households' purchasing power, a weaker external environment and tighter financing conditions are expected to tip the EU, the euro area and most member states into recession in the last quarter of the year," the European Commission said in its autumn forecast, which projected economic growth in both the EU and the eurozone at 0.3 percent for 2023.
"These issues are very complex. Sometimes even those I would define as traditional policymakers are unable to address this complexity. People are looking for simple solutions. The populists on the right are great at finding the problem. They don't have the capacity even to identify the complexity and make it simpler for people to understand," Paganini said.
While some fear that the right-wing parties gaining power could pose a threat to solidarity and integration across Europe, analysts recognize that as these parties need to deal with pressing domestic challenges and say that their impact on Europe's policy shifts remain uncertain.
Meloni's Brothers of Italy party has largely continued the economic and energy policies of the previous government, though by some measures it is more effective in communicating the need for these policies.
Such mainstreaming is dampening some of the controversy surrounding the far-right populist movements. But this does not mean they are not having an impact in some areas, notably the policy toward migrants, an area where Italy has taken a hardline stance, sparking criticism from neighboring France, the European Commission, and others.
Across Europe, right-wing populist parties have pushed for government spending to soften the blow of rising prices -- policies that have earned reprimands from the European Central Bank (ECB) and contributed to rising yields on government bonds, particularly in highly indebted countries. Nevertheless, experts doubt whether these changes will stand the test of time.
"I don't think we can call what is happening in Europe a nationalist wave, but that could change," Eelco Harteveld, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam, said.