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WORLD | 31-12-2017 00:31

Europe’s far-right plays for keeps but faces hurdles

The migrant crisis has been a key factor in fuelling the rise of far-right populism.

They may have failed to clinch a victory in national elections, but 2017 has nonetheless proven a bumper year for Europe’s far-right parties at the ballot boxes. Yet with success also come growing divisions, which could mar their future ambitions.

Across the continent, eurosceptics peddling anti-migration agendas have reaped historic election results this year, tapping into unease about a mass influx of asylum-seekers – many from Muslim-dominated countries. “The far right in Europe is more popular today than it was at any time in post-war history,” said Dutch expert Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia.

The first boost to populists came in March when the Dutch anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders became the second force in Parliament.

Then followed the French National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen, which took nearly 34 percent of votes in the May presidential run-off won by Emmanuel Macron. This was double the score Le Pen’s firebrand father and FN founder Jean-Marie obtained in the second round in 2002. September saw Germany’s Islamophobic and antiimmigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded in 2013, enter the Bundestag – the first far-right party to do so since the end of World War II. Last but not least, Austria’s anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) got a nearrecord result of 26 percent in October and became the junior coalition partner in the right-wing government.

The migrant crisis has been a key factor in fuelling the rise of far-right populism. More than 1.5 million people, many fleeing the civil war in Syria, have landed on Europe’s shores since 2015. Internal strife remains a challenge for Europe’s nationalists, however.

Both the FN and AfD have been riven by leadership issues, while Finland’s ultranationalist Finns Party imploded over divisions in June, barely two years after joining a coalition government.

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