The European Far-Right: A Platform Rooted in Fear, Not Fact

By Paul Oshinski, Blogger for European Affairs

Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician and founder of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV) was recently indicted in a hate speech lawsuit for rousing discrimination against immigrants in his country. The Netherlands is holding federal elections in mid-March. Wilders’ party is leading in nearly every poll. The PVV is set to win.

Similar far-right parties have formed in recent years, many in response to the ongoing refugee crisis as well as growing Islamophobia in Europe. Germany, France, and even Sweden have faced a newfangled wave of far-right parties seeking seats in parliaments with solutions to these pressing European issues.

Two of the most common issues on which far-right parties concentrate are immigration and terrorism. Possibly partially inspired by the anti-immigration and other polemic rhetoric of newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump, far-right leaders from Austria to Slovakia place such issues near the top of their political platform. Though, these anti-immigration, Muslim-fearing declamations and policies stemming from far-right European party leaders, such as PVV’s Wilders and United Kingdom Independence Party’s (UKIP) Lisa Duffy, are unsubstantiated, mean-spirited, and run contrary to established international laws.

A common argument heralded by far-right European politicians is that accepting immigrants places a considerable financial burden on a country. However, the consensus among researchers is that immigration, specifically in Europe, improves the overall economic development of a country. A 2015 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that immigrants boosted a countries’ GDP by .35 percent, with little variation of this net result among countries in the study. However, the study also found that immigrants in Germany drained public funds, as many older immigrants relied on Germany’s pensions. Nevertheless, recent immigrants tend to represent a relatively young demographic , which, according to The Economist, will likely drive down this negative fiscal impact in coming years.

Two separate studies published in 2013 by University College London found that immigrants added around £2 billion to the British economy.

Additionally, Europe is facing another foreboding dilemma: their population is aging. Eurostat projects that the ratio of Europeans 65 and older to those under this age group will rise sharply in the next decades, likely leading to a financial watershed for many European countries. Immigrants offer a relatively simple solution to the widening ratio of senile adults to those under 65. Citing IMF and Eurostat studies, Bloomberg Columnist Leonid Bershidsky convincingly reasons that Europe in fact does not have enough immigrants. Additionally, migrant workers have provided Europe with labor for decades, and studies from sources such as the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility display the positive impacts of immigrants, meaning that far-right parties lack empirical or research-driven explanations for their economically argued anti-immigrant stance.

After a number of terror-related attacks in Europe in the 2010s, another common narrative on which the far-right relies is incubating anxiety over domestic terrorism. Most notably, the 2015 Paris Attacks, which killed 130 and wounded nearly 400 others, ushered an encompassing wave of terrorism phobia into Europe. Similar attacks occurred in 2016: three suicide bombers targeted the airport and a metro station in Brussels, killing 30 civilians; Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhle drove a cargo truck into a crowd of civilians in Nice France during Bastille Day celebrations, killing 86 and wounding hundreds more. ISIL took credit for each of these attacks, and most of the assailants were either immigrants or temporary residents. These attacks are national security dilemmas that the far-right can justifiably point to when calling for reduced immigration, but their policy response to this predicament is illegal, rabble-roused, and based on swathing prejudices rather than observations.  

Recently, Wilder has called for a ban of all Islamic symbols, a shutdown of Muslim religious buildings, such as mosques, Muslim schools and asylum centers, a ban on the Koran, and a ban on headscarves for women in the country. Wilder’s proposed repression of the Muslim faith is outrageous: it breaches Netherlands’ basic civil liberties of freedom of religion, speech, and expression. It is a dangerous precedent set by a far-right political leader that has the potential to lead to further civil liberty violations.

The far-right’s trademark platform of simply refusing refugees is unlawful vis-à-vis both the 1951 and 1967 United Nations Refugee Conventions (UNFC). The conventions, signed by 145 parties, outlines the basic rights for refugees, which include the right to work, education, public assistance, and representation in court. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that over 366,000 refugees travelled through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, most fleeing war-torn Iraq, ISIL-held Syria, and Afghanistan. These refugees are guaranteed basic human rights through international law, and the far-right’s rhetorical and policy-driven condemnation of refugees as breeding grounds for dangerous terrorists is driven more by xenophobic fear than national security, not to mention that their proposed policies are illegal under UN law.

European signatory countries of the post-WWII UNFCs agreed to protect refugees by providing them with basic unalienable rights. The far-right’s attack on refugees not only violates established UN treaties, but it also disregards the stark reality of the situation–civilians in desperation fleeing warzones, mainly coming from the Middle East. Moreover, the consensus among researchers has found that immigrants augment Europe’s economic output, not the mention the fact that immigration is an effectual solution to Europe’s growing adult population. With Wilder up for reelection in less than a month, the Dutch have an important choice: compassion and economic growth, or fear-driven far-right hatred and economic status quo.

Paul Oshinski is a Junior at the University of Georgia, where he studies political science and international affairs.