Europe's Far Right: Sheep in Wolves' Clothing

The rise to power of Dutch populists in the middle of last year looked dismayingly familiar to Europe’s moderate majority. The advance of illiberalism seemed irresistible, with the reactionary right having a say in government in four of the fifteen European Union states. But the routing of Jörg Haider’s Freedom party in the Austrian general election in November, the implosion of the Netherlands’ Lijst Pim Fortuyn in September and the inability of these parties, and others like them, to implement agendas of intolerance, strongly suggest that they will remain a largely insignificant force in European politics.

The World Today
Published 1 January 2003 Updated 21 October 2020 4 minute READ

Dan O'Brien

Senior Editor, Economist Intelligence Unity, London

The freedom party joined the Austrian government three years ago in the first in a string of successes for populist parties in western Europe.

But even before the other European Union (EU) states had time to impose diplomatic sanctions in response, there was considerable evidence to indicate how little sway it would have in government.

To be an acceptable coalition partner for the centre right People’s party, the Freedom party was forced to abandon the raft of populist promises made in opposition, including its commitment to halt immigration, block EU enlargement and slash taxes.

With the coalition’s legislative agenda bearing no resemblance to the party’s populist election manifesto, its chances of wielding real influence were confined to executive decision-making.

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