January 21, 2017; Deutsche Welle
The Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) faction held a summit on January 21st in the German city of Koblenz. The coalition is led by five notoriously radical, extreme-right-wing politicians in Europe: Frauke Petry, head of Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party; Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate and head of France’s National Front party; Geert Wilders, leader of The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV); Harald Vilimsky, Secretary General of Austria’s Freedom Party (FPӦ); and Italy’s Northern League leader, Matteo Salvini.
Galvanized by the UK’s shock vote in June last year to leave the European Union, as well as Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the US, Europe’s nationalists are more than content to ride the populist wave into 2017.
Deutsche Welle describes all five leaders as the “leading faces—but not necessarily members—of the European Parliament’s right-wing.” Dubbed the “European Counter-Summit“ event, it gathered Euro-skeptic groups who believe that the best thing for Europe is the demise of the European Union.
The event underscored a united call for a so-called “patriotic spring.” At least that’s what Wilders advocated in his speech, which was said to have been met with “rapturous” applause. His rants espoused what many may see as typical white-extremist positions, asserting that native Europeans “have become strangers in their own countries…our women are scared to show their blonde hair.”
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The event, as a whole, entailed two-and-a-half hours of speeches about ENF’s vision of an upcoming Europe. Referencing the UK’s Brexit, Le Pen espoused her view that “2016 was the year that the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. In 2017, I am sure that the people of continental Europe will wake up.”
Of course, Le Pen said this in French. The translation came from Deutsche Welle, as they explained that Le Pen and her faction colleagues condemn “the ever-increasing presence of English in European universities as a sign of the ‘cowardice of [their] own elites.’” She argues, “I love Germany because it’s Germany. I love France because it’s France.” The loud cheers of the crowd gave credence to the theme of culture and identity trumping (no pun intended) the evolving demographic concerns of not all, but perhaps some people. This appears to underscore what tipped the scales towards her populist lead in the latest French elections. While European Commissioner (and French Socialist) Pierre Moscovici told Bloomberg that he is “not worried“ about her winning despite this lead, the Independent notes how she managed to take the place of a known favorite in France, François Fillon. Despite the latest reported polls, Germany’s Press Reader details how leaders across Europe agree that her win would be “a disaster.” Yet, Le Pen believes that “it is not a question of if, but when.”
Many of us might be biting our tongues right about now, shaking our heads as we read this. Perhaps experiencing a “been there” kind of moment? Well, there’s more. The ENF leaders united in their slamming of the handling of the EU’s response to the refugee crisis. Wilders, the leading Dutch populist who, as the UK Express confirmed, vowed to close down all mosques and ban the Koran, is becoming more popular in the Netherlands. He prompted “Merkel out!” chants during the event, in reference to the Germany Chancellor’s notably welcoming stance towards refugees seeking asylum in the EU. The faction’s German AfD head, Petry, took the opportunity to slam Berlin’s tolerance as she accused people risking their lives to escape war-torn countries of being “invaders” consisting of “mostly illiterate young men from a far and partly violent culture.”
Many of us in democratic societies are very uncomfortable with stories about events like the one in Koblenz. However, these stories need to be told to constantly remind the world of the continued rise and support of extreme right-wing political groups—groups that many still believe will never prove capable of winning elections…until it’s too late. Germany’s AfD is currently polling between 11 and 15 percent, making it likely it will be soon be the first right-wing party in Germany’s parliament since 1945. The Washington Post once quoted UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein as reminding us to realize that the “rhetoric of fascism” is “no longer confined to a secret underworld…[but] is becoming part of normal, daily discourse.” Just like other citizens of existing and emerging democracies around the world, the people of the EU are no strangers to this rhetoric. Ironically, pieces of their still fairly recent history indicate the tragedies and disasters resulting from it. Despite this, Deutsche Welle lets us know that it is still managing to roar as Le Pen shouts out, “Long live the nations of Europe—long live the Europe of Nations!”—Noreen Ohlrich