This piece originally appeared on Livemint.com
Norbert Hofer, a key figure in Austria’s anti-immigration, far right Freedom Party, narrowly missed becoming the president of the country earlier this month. It’s a ceremonial position, yet, that he came so close to the presidency is seen as an indicator of how parties similar to Hofer’s are gaining popularity across Europe.
has Alternative for Germany; France has its National Front; Netherlands, Party for Freedom; Greece, Golden Dawn; Hungary, Jobbik; and Sweden, Sweden Democrats.
The trend has been picking up for some years now, and in 2016 the noise—and the confidence—levels have gone up. The anti-immigrant sentiment came on the back of a large number of refugees landing in Europe from Muslim-majority countries in West Asia and Africa. The inflow dropped in 2016 (see chart 1) compared with 2015, but tension over their settlement and assimilation is simmering. On top of this, there is disillusionment about the European Union. Unemployment rates in two countries, Greece and Spain, are about 20%. In France and Italy, they are above 10% (see chart 2).
Economic growth has been sluggish. The mood worsened after the UK voted to leave the bloc in a June referendum (see chart 3)—in part because the results seemed to reflect the growing trend across Europe. The elections this year in at least three countries saw the right and far right parties gaining vote share (see chart 4). Unlike the sudden rise of Donald Trump in the US, the popularity of right/far right parties has been building up over years. 2017 is unlikely to be any different.