Europe against the ultras: knots and cracks in the cordon sanitaire

  • Experts see risks and advantages in the isolation of the extreme right in the EU, which some countries apply and others do not

  • The adoption of radical approaches by the traditional parties shifts the ideological axis to conservative positions

A ghost tour europeand it is not that of communism, in low hours at least in its traditional acronyms, but that of the far right. In recent decades the continent has remembered the shock of fascism, which led him last century to the most destructive war known to mankind. What to do in the face of the growth of political options related to the forces that provoked this confrontation? There is no common answer to that question.

The two main countries of the European Union, Germany and France have been applying a cordon sanitaire for years to the far-right forces to prevent them from gaining power. It is a strategy widely shared by the rest of the parties, but which has offered uneven results; it is enough to see that Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the extreme although revamped National Rally (formerly the National Front), is one of the candidates to preside over the country in the elections this Sunday. She already reached the second round in 2017, but this time the polls give her more chances of success.

“In Germany you can see that the growth of the AfD [Alternativa para Alemania] has descended through that cord & rdquor ;, says Camino Mortera, head of the Brussels office of the ‘think tank’ Center for European Reform and member of the scientific council of the Elcano Royal Institute. However, both she and other experts point out that ehis way of dealing with the rise of parties on the right bank of the system involves risks.

In the absence of a common policy, Germany and France isolate the ultras and in Italy and Austria they occupy important portfolios

“Isolating the extreme right has the benefit that it does not reach the institutions, but it also has significant costs,” says historian Xavier Casals, a specialist in ultra movements and new populisms. Among the advantages, Casals alludes to the German case, in which “if you are a conservative you have incentives to vote for the CDU, because the AfD is not a government option”. “If voters know that the only alternative is you, that is a very clear advantage. In that, the PP has an unresolved problem with Vox & rdquor ;, warns the historian.

Only opposition?

Among the drawbacks of the cordons sanitaires, Casals cites that the traditional parties find it difficult to confront their projects in electoral campaigns, because after the elections they may have to agree to govern together; what the extreme right can argue that those cords prove them right in that they are a different party from those of the system; that these forces can remain as the only opposition, and enjoy the privileges that democracies grant to parties that are an alternative to power; and, above all, that the isolation of the extreme right-wing formations does not prevent them from continuing to grow.

“In Germany, the AfD is not an alternative; the PP has an unresolved problem with Vox », says Xavier Casals

Apart from Germany and France, in other countries no cordon sanitaire has been applied to the forces of the extreme right. In Italy, the League has had and continues to have ministers in the Government of Rome; in Austriathe Freedom Party (FPO), third force in the 2017 and 2019 elections, has held portfolios as important as the Interior, Foreign Affairs or Defense.

For Ruth Ferrero, professor of Political Science at the Complutense University of Madrid, there is no answer on a European scale to the question of whether cordons sanitaires are useful. “It depends on the country and how its political and electoral system works & rdquor ;, she states. What he is clear about is that one of the consequences of the growth of extremist options is that “the ideological axis has shifted to the right clearly, and in fact in the last presidential contests two right-wing parties have reached the second round & rdquor ;. Both in 2017 and this year, the candidates to preside over France are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, from conservative parties.

“You saw in the debate between Macron and Le Pen the other day: there were very few discrepancies on immigration or security policies. That is the most dangerous, the rise of the frameworks and public policies of the extreme right & rdquor ;, maintains Ferrero. This is a situation that has occurred in recent years, for example in Denmark: the traditional parties have managed to stop the rise of the ultras at the cost of adopting their discourse, especially on migration issues.

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At this point, both Mortera and Casals agree in recalling the phrase repeated by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, when they asked him if he was worried that other parties would assume his postulates: “People prefer the original to the copy”. “These things end up taking their toll. Obviously it is a way to prevent extremists from coming to power, but at the price of becoming them, and it does not seem to me an effective formula in societies that should aspire to moderate and open governments & rdquor ;, adds Mortera, who stresses that his analysis serves both for Le Pen and for the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Jean-Marie Le Pen warned the traditional parties that people prefer the original to the copy

All also agree in emphasizing that the context in which these growths occur is the end of bipartisanship. “Socialists and Gaullists have collapsed in France. In Spain, the trend is also towards new phenomena & rdquor ;, emphasizes Casals. “Coalitions with strange bedfellows take their toll”, Mortera maintains about the ‘grosse koalition’ that took place in Germany between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, or the current pact between Socialists, Liberals and Greens. The only thing that seems clear is that, at least in politics, the time for conventional marriages with few surprises is over.

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