The rise of far-right popularism is a sign that the economic policy of austerity in Europe really has failed.
The rise of far-right popularism is a sign that the economic policy of austerity in Europe really has failed
For many there was a sad inevitability to the rise of the far-right parties across Europe in the European elections on Sunday. Since austerity was implemented across Europe, those prepared to listen to the lessons of history have been desperately pointing to the 1930s as a dire warning of what could happen next.
The similarities are stark: after the end of the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles started the long process in which the Germans were pushed financially to breaking point by the imposition of reparations that, as one British statesman put it, would “squeeze the German orange till the pips squeaked”.
Post-2007 and the Great Financial Crash (GFC), a replica of the1929 crash, it was the voices of a similar forced austerity that have squeezed so many European countries dry, creating a 1930s-style economic hotbed for extremism.
History also warns us that it was the resentment felt by the average German that led to the National Socialists gaining 38 per cent of the votes in 1933.
Fast forward to the current situation and the European Union is allowing Greece to be devastated (its economy has shrunk by a quarter since 2007) whilst allowing another member country to outstrip most world countries to a pleasant 8 per cent growth. (see chart). In Spain 1 in 5 are out of work compared to 1 in 15 in other Northern European members of the EU (see chart).
Austerity has been an experiment blind to the past and therefore has fallen into making the same mistakes. In concentrating on mythical economic numbers dreamt up by disproved theories instead of concentrating on economic investment, growth and employment, it has created the circumstances for those suffering to desperately look around for someone to blame – just as happened in the 1930s.
And blame they have. A frightening example was the Jobbik party in Hungary, which gained 15 per cent of the vote in the recent elections. A party which chillingly believe that it is time for the Jews in that country to sign a special register.
In the UK, on the very day of the elections, the figures released by the ONS showed that UK net immigration had been 212,000 for 2013. This works out as 0.3 per cent of the population of the UK. Of this number, almost half were helping our universities by becoming fee paying international students. That the other half, an equivalent of 0.15 per cent of the population, are seen as the reason for our economic problems should have been roundly ridiculed.
It would be deeply tragic if the austerity measures that gave birth to the extremists are forgotten as the cause of Europe’s current economic woes due to those very extremists shouting their easy answers the loudest.
Yesterday, the coin seemed to have dropped, with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy saying that Europe “needs a positive agenda of growth”.
More than any economic analysis, the rise of far-right popularism is a sign that the economic policy of austerity in Europe really has failed.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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