Trump's Election Gives Hope To Europe's Far Right

Nov 9, 2016
Originally published on November 15, 2016 6:31 am

There's an expression in French, "Jamais deux sans trois," or "Never two without three." After Brexit and Trump, will Marine Le Pen be next?

France holds its presidential election next spring, and Le Pen, the leader of the country's far-right National Front party, could well be one of the top two candidates in the first round of voting, which would propel her to the second-round runoff in May 2017. But she hasn't been seriously considered as a candidate who could actually become president.

Until now.

"I think we can have the same surprise in France," said National Front Secretary General Nicolas Bay, speaking Wednesday on French radio.

Bay called Trump's victory a victory of the people who were "betrayed by the elites." He said both Trump and the National Front have the same platform: rejection of multiculturalism, rejection of globalization and free trade, and strengthening national borders.

There are other important similarities: Both Trump and the National Front want to limit or even halt immigration. Both are wary of Muslims. Trump has toyed with the idea of the U.S. weakening its bonds with NATO, or perhaps even leaving. The National Front wants France to leave, too. It would also remove France from the European Union.

"Congratulations to the new president of the United States Donald Trump and to the free American people," Le Pen tweeted, even before Trump had accrued the necessary number of electoral votes.

Her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who founded their party 44 years ago, also chimed in on Twitter: "Today the United States, tomorrow France."

"The election of Trump is a turning point," says Philippe Moreau Defarges, a political analyst with the French Institute of International Relations. "A taboo has been broken. It's a watershed moment because we have seen that a populist can be elected to high office."

Defarges says Trump's victory gives fresh hope to a swath of populist parties across Europe that have been able to boost membership by exploiting issues including the refugee crisis, immigration and lagging economies.

These parties are surging in a way that hasn't been seen since before the Second World War. Defarges says it could alter the entire political and economic landscape of Europe.

Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist at the University of Georgia, says, "Trump's win gives a narrative of success, of possibility, to far-right parties in Europe, because Trump won despite all the predictions. So they can say to people, 'You're not wasting your vote if you come out and vote for us. We will actually do much better than what everyone says.' "

In the Netherlands, Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders called Trump's victory a sign that the West was living through a "patriotic spring" and that it proved that people are fed up with politically correct politicians. His party tops polls and is poised to be the deal-maker in a new Dutch government to be voted next spring.

In Germany, Frauke Petry, the head of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party, was quick to send her congratulations to President-elect Trump. In an early-morning tweet, a German news outlet reported that Petry said, "This night changes the USA, Europe and the world!"

"Americans have chosen a new beginning free of corruption and sleaze," she also tweeted. "This is a historic chance."

The AfD wants a ban on minarets and Muslim face veils. Though many believe it has no chance of emulating Trump's success, German analysts say the party will use Trump's victory to mobilize people who normally would not have voted but see that things can change now.

In Greece, which is struggling to deal with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, the far-right Golden Dawn party hailed Trump's election as a victory against "illegal immigration" and in favor of ethnically "clean" nations.

In Austria, a candidate of the populist Freedom Party, Norbert Hofer, is poised to become the EU's first far-right head of state in a Dec. 4 runoff with the Green Party. Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said Trump's win shows "the political left and the aloof and sleazy establishment are being punished by voters and voted out of various decision-making positions."

Across Europe, mainstream conservative parties are getting a wake-up call. If a host of anti-establishment, anti-free trade, xenophobic parties gain more power, analysts say it could reshape the EU. Defarges, the French political analyst, warns that major international agreements such as the global climate treaty and the Iran nuclear deal may also be in danger.

Mudde, the Dutch political scientist, says Trump will normalize the radical right in Europe, "because every politician will have to deal with Trump as if he's a normal U.S. president. And if national politicians are going to deal with Trump in a normal way, it will be harder to exclude radical-right politicians nationally. The parties will say, 'Oh, you're OK working with Trump, but you're not OK working with us.' Clearly this is not about ideology, it's about keeping your power."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Donald Trump's election victory has energized a string of far-right parties across Europe. With Europe's sagging economies, increasing immigration and a refugee crisis, those parties were gaining momentum already. But Trump's win gives them a real narrative for success, letting them tell their supporters that if it can happen in America, it can happen in their country too. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: There is an expression in French - jamais deux sans trois - or never two without three. After Brexit and Trump, the French are wondering will Marine Le Pen be next? Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front party, spoke glowingly after the U.S. election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Through interpreter) The Americans have refused the status quo. They chose the president they wanted, and not the one the system wanted them to validate. What happened is not the end of the world, but the end of a world.

BEARDSLEY: France holds its presidential election next spring. If faced with lackluster establishment candidates, Le Pen is expected to make it into the second round runoff. But no one ever thought she could be elected president until now, says the French political analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges.

PHILIPPE MOREAU DEFARGES: Something that was considered as impossible is no more impossible. It's a turning point, really, it's a turning point.

BEARDSLEY: Defarges says Trump's victory has energized the National Front and other far-right parties in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Greece. Dutch politics professor Cas Mudde says Trump's win not only shows the radical right how to succeed, but it brings them into mainstream politics.

CAS MUDDE: Because every politician will have to deal with Trump as if he is a normal U.S. president. And it will be harder to exclude radical right politicians nationally because they will say, oh, you're OK working with Trump but you're not OK working with us. So clearly this is not about ideology, this is just about trying to keep your power.

BEARDSLEY: Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management, says the rise of populist parties on the right and left is in large part linked to people's perception that they're not getting their share of the economic pie, that they're being left behind by globalization.

MEGAN GREENE: Throughout history, you tend to have waves of populism. And they happen roughly every ten years, in line with the business cycle.

BEARDSLEY: Greene says central bank intervention has tended to make these business cycles much longer.

GREENE: And as a result, it's given populous an extra-long runway to consolidate support. So I think that's partly why we're seeing it so incredibly broad based across the western world.

BEARDSLEY: Political analyst Cas Mudde says while right wing parties are embracing Trump's movement, they're being cautious about linking themselves too closely to Trump. Because if his presidency proves chaotic, that could lead to a backlash against them as well. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.