Op-Ed: The reasons why Europe is lurching to the right

Posted Sep 24, 2010 by Michael Cosgrove
Right-wing governments have progressively modified European politics over the last ten years, and the people of the “Old Continent” are now less tolerant of immigrants and the outside world in general. It is vitally important to understand why.
Election poster of Nicolas Sarkozy  defaced to make him resemble Hitler  2007
Election poster of Nicolas Sarkozy, defaced to make him resemble Hitler, 2007
Destempsanciens on Flick'r
A historical situation which set the scene for the rise of the political right we are witnessing today is to be found in the postwar European conservative period, which saw the likes of Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle at the head of a Western Europe engaged in a worldwide ideological battle against communism. They and their successors, the most visible of which were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, won that fight. That victory reinforced the social capitalism which was born before them.
But the years of right-wing rule took their toll on voters who wanted political change in the context of the disappointment of the post-boom years, which they felt was the fault of their governments, hence the fault of the political right.
This new situation led to Europe voting socialist. But although the left suddenly found itself in power, European communists and socialists had already been stripped of a major ideological war to wage by the defeat of communism. They have suffered from that ever since, and what they did next made them partially responsible for their poor showing today.
Most socialist governments during the European left’s heyday were socialist in name only, obliged as they were to run their countries according to a more liberalized and less centralized credo. Many of their policies were merely watered-down versions of what the opposition right-wing parties would have imposed had they been in power.
Immigration into Europe was made easier by the socialists and liberal-socialists however, and global melting-pot values and cultural mix were the new mantras. Europe was opening itself up to the world, to other cultures. But the relatively abrupt manner in which European socialists had introduced their policies came back to haunt them during the 1990’s.
European ethnic groups began to resent immigration, which they felt had been forced upon them. The winds of change were blowing, intolerance began to rise along with unemployment, and the socialists found themselves accused of lax policies as well as ignoring home-grown European cultural needs and traditions. They had sown the seeds of their own defeat.
As if things weren’t bad enough for the socialists, their decline was hastened by another crucial element of the social fabric which changed radically – although this was not the fault of socialists. It was the fault of religion.
Europe had always been steeped in – even held together by - Judeo-Christian values, but the slow moral decay of the Catholic Church which finally led to the uncovering of the various scandals that have dogged it over the last twenty years has sapped its authority and left Europeans without what had hitherto been considered as unquestionable spiritual beliefs. This neglect by the Church, literally criminal in some aspects, is one of the reasons that Europeans have become more inclined towards intolerance. Unsure of their own beliefs, they have naturally begun to question the belief systems of others.
And they are now questioning the Muslim faith in particular. The parallel rise of Islamic extremism which culminated in the 9/11 disaster has shocked Europeans. Added to their worries is the fact that previous policies resulted in the large-scale immigration into Europe of Muslim minorities, and these minorities have been growing in size.
Which brings us up to the 2000’s and the switch back to the right. Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Geert Wilders, Jörg Haider, the recent Swedish election results and various other right-wing governments, extreme right-wing parties and groups are what characterize the Europe of today, beset as it is by fear.
Although the right has returned to power thanks partly to the failed socialist revival and a spiritual void which has led to people being more receptive to isolation and protectionism, there is a third reason why they are ruling the roost.
That reason is Europe. Conceived as a means of federating Europe’s effort to exert its influence in world affairs, it has paradoxically contributed to its own current disgrace by betraying its own people.
European elites, those distant men who shape European policy, have become indifferent to the needs of Europeans by perpetuating the ideas of multiculturalism, ethnic diversity and the dialogue of cultures to the point where they have neglected the very idea of integrating their immigrant communities. This has led to a situation where Europe is now considered as being irrelevant to the daily lives of Europeans. The same accusations are also being leveled at pro-leftist European intellectuals and the Church.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of their beliefs, many Europeans consider that unemployment, Islamic extremists, social unrest and other destabilizing factors in their lives are the fault of unbridled immigration and that Europe is doing nothing to change the situation. They feel abandoned and are thus vulnerable to exploitation by xenophobic and racist agenda-mongers.
The situation regarding the Roma in France is a good example of that. The French are overwhelmingly of the opinion that what they see as being excessive numbers of Roma and immigrants of all kinds are responsible for high crime rates and insecurity.
But instead of addressing their fears, all that Europe – and the rest of the world for that matter – seems capable of doing is to throw the theoretical rulebook at Sarkozy. He has been told that what he is doing is “illegal” and “immoral”, and that France will be penalized.
All that has done up to now is to put people’s backs to the wall. The French and other European peoples consider that their problems are not being addressed, that they have a right to be heard, and that they are being asked to swallow touchy-feely and well-meaning but ultimately woolly concepts instead.
Unless Europe wakes up to the concerns of its increasingly-dissatisfied people, be they wholly or only partially valid, its people will look elsewhere for answers.
The left has let them down, the church has let them down, and Europe has let them down.
And that is why many Europeans have come to feel that the only option left open to them is the political right, for better or for worse.