OP/ED#2 – Voters in France: Macron and Le Pen, Round 2

France is a large country in Europe with a rich history and culture and a population of 67.7 million.  It is an integral member of both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and France’s complexities of diplomacy may be as daunting as 3-dimensional chess, and extremist views domestically limit Macron’s available political capital in the international arena.

Emanuel Macron and his Le Republique En Marche party was re-elected in the 2022 election with 58% of the vote, his top competitor, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally (Rassemblement National) party had their largest-ever gains, winning 89 seats and denying Macron a majority government.  Previously known as the National Front, the National Rally party has been a political force in France for decades. They received 34% of the vote in the last election.

Le Pen voters are often referred to as far or extreme right, or even the anti-immigration party.  In the April 2022 election 41% of French voters supported Le Pen and the National Rally party, who were known for their racist and authoritarian beliefs.  During the campaign Le Pen repeated her intent to make social assistance programs unattainable for foreigners who had not worked for a minimum of 5 years in France and to ban Muslim headscarves (hijabs) in public. In addition, Le Pen associates with Viktor Orban of Hungary whom I talked a bit about in the previous OP/ED, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy amongst other authoritarian and fascist leaders. To make matters worse she even spoke of withdrawal from NATO, and  Since 2011 Le Pen has declared her admiration for Vladimir Putin and his policies.  However, due to Russia’s invasion on Ukraine Le Pen has brushed off questions about Putin and began to shift her public position.

Similarly, here in Canada the issue of religious garments and symbols worn by those working for the Province of Quebec has been hotly debated in the National Assembly of Quebec, in parliament, at rallies, and throughout communities.  Bill 21, referred to as Quebec’s secularism law, has been controversial since receiving Royal Assent in June 2019.  Backlash against Bill 21 is supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association informing us how this law unfairly impacts Canada’s marginalized populations.  In August of 2022 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported on the Association of Canadian Studies new report which was a combined study with Leger, a prominent polling organization.  Lead researcher, Miriam Taylor explained – “Religious minority communities are encountering – at levels that are disturbing – a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression.”

Prior to the 2022 election but after the war in Ukraine had begun, the people of France found Macron to be a good crisis leader, and his poll numbers improved.  Yet Macron’s record on immigration is not a good one, nor did he inherit anything resembling a functioning immigration system.  In 2018 the United Nations (UN) criticized France and the Macron government of inhumane and substandard conditions experienced by asylum-seekers. With an increased anti-immigrant sentiment among the French, Macron’s government has continued to destroy migrant settlements without providing services to even the most vulnerable.  The message they provide instead is move on.  Meanwhile, on March 10, 2022 Ukrainian refugees were given temporary protection in France, similar to those who hold Schengen Visas which are renewable every 6 months.  Neither Macron nor Le Pen offers any reasonable solution to France’s continued abuse of basic human rights,  and this same scenario is being played out in other European countries too.  In France there is room for the white Ukrainians fleeing war and no room for the people of color predominantly from countries that are under travel advisories in the West.













Op/Ed #2 – What to expect from Meloni and the Brothers of Italy

By Jim Dagg

Italians have elected a government led by the FdI (Brothers of Italy) party. Opponents call it neo-fascist, though its leader – and now Prime Minister – Giorgia Meloni calls it post-fascist. What should we expect from Meloni’s government?

FdI is definitely on the far right. The Thesis of Trieste, passed at a party congress in 2017 is the party’s ideological platform. Using a model of R.R.P (radical right party) characteristics, one analyst establishes the importance of “nativism, nationalism and authoritarianism” as well as “euro-skepticism” in this platform. Having said that, the platform is one thing; implementation when in power is another. History shows that situational parameters (social, political, economic) and the abilities of the leader have a huge impact on the ability to implement a program.

Meloni is an excellent politician. She has a reputation within the Italian establishment for “pragmatism and sharp intelligence”. And as a woman who has made it to the top of Italian politics… she is tough. In 2012, she led a split from Berlusconi’s mainstream center-right “People of Freedom” alliance, creating the FdI and became its first (and only) leader. She is a fiery and captivating speaker. She is charismatic: even the attempt to mock her in a video “Io sono Giorgia” worked in her favour. When the national unity government of Mario Draghi took power in 2021, she kept her small party in opposition, aware that Italians tend to vote for change. During the snap election which followed Draghi’s resignation, as it became clear that Meloni might win, she began to moderate her positions – including on supporting the euro. In the end, her party won 26% of the vote, up from 4% in 2018. Her coalition partners each won under 9%, putting Meloni in the driving seat of a strong majority government.

Pragmatic, smart and tough, Meloni will play the cards she has been dealt and look for opportunities to implement her party’s program. She has already said that she is leading a center-right government, not a far-right one. She tried hard to recruit a non-political technocrat as finance minister, though she was unsuccessful. She has fully stepped away from euro-skepticism: €200B from the EU – in COVID recovery grants and loans – is immediately at stake. She knows that Europe makes it easier for Italy to manage its huge debt, and that 71% of Italians support use of the euro. She is a full-throated supporter of Ukraine, in complete alignment with EU policy – and against the policy of far-right fellow-traveller Viktor Orban in Hungary. In affirming this recently, ‘she said that Italy was fully, and “with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic alliance.”’  She has no interest in changing the abortion law nor laws that permit same-sex civil unions, as these have proven popular to the population at large. Smart politicians – even true believers – know when the time is not right.

Meloni will pursue her far-right policies where she can: most likely under the categories of nativism and nationalism. This may include new legislation around perceived “illegal” immigration and all aspects of “welfare chauvinism”. Both initiatives are likely to target Islamic immigrants especially. An amplification effect is likely: when the government discusses and passes laws which move to the right in this way, they shift the understanding in the community. This may lead to self-justification for additional official (police) and unofficial (vigilante) action against the identified communities. This is what the world should watch out for.

Talented and determined though she is, Meloni faces daunting challenges. The economy is projected to contract by 0.7% in 2023 and inflation is at 9.4%. She couldn’t recruit as she wanted for some cabinet posts, including for the Minister of Economy and Finance: Giancarlo Giorgetti, who got the appointment and was in Draghi’s unity government as Minister of Economic Development, actually said that he was not confident he could do the job. Meloni’s coalition partners Salvini (The League) and Berlusconi (Forza Italia) have made a habit of expressing approval for Putin and his war in Ukraine. They may choose to make trouble for her for their own reasons. And EU human rights rules as well as economic factors may make it difficult for her to implement some of her agenda.

Meloni’s government, like any democratically elected government in history, will need to be pragmatic about implementing her party’s program. Meloni will likely prioritize some high-profile policies which advance the nativist and nationalist aspects of her platform. But anything more will be limited by situational considerations including an inflationary yet shrinking economy, Italy’s immediate dependency on the EU, and Meloni’s own dependency on mercurial partners Salvini and Berlusconi.

European Football and Populism: More than a Coincidental Connection? OP/ED #2

by Jacob Braun

Football and right-wing populism in Europe are irrefutably intertwined. Although FIFA ostensibly supports an apolitical stance at its games, spectators and players alike engage in right-wing sloganeering and nationalist displays. Attracting large numbers of predominantly white, male spectators who get riled up for their club’s victory, it’s no wonder there’s a problem in the pitches. Whether FIFA likes it or not, their football arenas are used as political tools by European populists to take advantage of the xenophobic and racist sentiments rife within them. If we want to deal with this issue, we really need to kick it out!

European football fans are notorious for being quite violent at times. With such an aggressively charged macho atmosphere surrounding the sport, it’s easy for passionate crowds to erupt into thuggish mobs. For star black players, football spectators channel their anger towards them for anything from missed goals to lost games. Take the 3 black players for England’s Euro 2020 team, who faced racist abuse after their loss to Italy in a shootout. When also taking into account the fierce nationalism which pervades the realm of football, populist rhetoric can effortlessly take root among amped-up spectators.

A defaced mural of Marcus Rashford is covered with supportive messages against his abuse following England’s 2020 Euro loss. Source

Populists love their dichotomies. The us versus them dynamic is integral to the populist ideology; denoting a clear enemy of the cause. It makes sense then why the “Donald Trump of Portuguese Football,” Bruno de Carvalho, used this binary rhetoric during his tenure (with the addition of some colourful language). De Carvalho rose to prominence thanks to his fiery personality and disdain for the old guard, echoing many other eminent populists. Thankfully the aggressive president-fan was ousted in June 2018, but his presence as the head of Sporting CP serves as an insight into how populists make names for themselves and take root in the football world. 

Bruno de Carvalho, the “Donald Trump of Portuguese Football.” Source

The purpose of football has evolved past solely kicking a ball around and scoring goals for amusement. In Hungary under the auspices of Viktor Orban, it has become a political tool. With every match that takes place on a Hungarian pitch, he pits his illiberal democratic values against the liberal democracies of western Europe. Because of his presence at matches in Hungary, football has become a meeting place for populist politicians and businessmen who are supportive of Orban. It has also become a place of populist rhetoric dissemination among the spectators, resulting in homophobic chants.

A fan runs on to the field protesting the Germany-Hungary Euro 2020 football match. This match took place in early June of 2021, shortly after Hungary’s legislation of anti-LGBTQ laws. Source

Football in Europe and right-wing populism go hand in hand. In the modern age football has evolved into a platform for political discourse, which has been co-opted by populist fans. As much as the governing agencies try to discourage its games from becoming political arenas, there is nothing that can be done other than actively recognizing and combating the issue. Holding an apolitical stance will do nothing! Overall, the need for the football to populism pipeline to be recognized is at an all time high while Europe is threatened by populist leaders. Maybe by shutting it, we can make a significant change down the line.

Op/ED #2: New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: The Corruption of Europe’s Anti-Corruption Populists

Owen Billo

Source: https://www.aier.org/article/the-big-fib-about-the-rich-and-taxes/

When populists come to power part of their platform is almost always anti-corruption, and yet these same populists are consistently corrupt themselves.  They portray themselves as outlets of the people’s will, and of course the people are opposed to corruption.  But positioning oneself as the sole outlet of the people’s will also creates an image of infallibility, which is inevitably used to cover up corruption.  Focusing on Europe, the populist parties which have taken power (primarily in Eastern Europe) have been ideal examples of this.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban started off as a liberal opposing Hungary’s authoritarian Communist regime.  He and his party, Fidesz, fought against that regime’s deep-seated corruption, and he has built off of that image ever since.  Today, as a far-right populist, Orban rails against the fictional corruption of George Soros and the LGBT+ community, trying to shore up his image as Hungary’s saviour from financial, political, and moral corruption.  At the same time, Orban’s government is in a standoff with the European Union (EU) over nepotism as well as misuse and embezzlement of EU funds by Orban.  Hungary’s media situation is also atrocious, with media regulations being heavily biased in favour of the ruling Fidesz party and most private media being owned by the pro-Fidesz Central European Press and Media Foundation.  Both Hungary and Poland have been accused by the EU of weakening judicial independence in their countries.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivering a speech at a right wing political convention. Source: https://www.transcontinentaltimes.com/vows-to-cut-hungary-funding/

While Poland’s Law and Justice party is not quite as corrupt as Hungary’s Fidesz, that charge of weakening judicial independence is very much true.  Last year, Poland fell to its worst ever ranking in the global corruption index from Transparency International.  This year, it worked the rolling back of anti-corruption legislation into a bill also assisting Ukrainian refugees.  Because “you wouldn’t want to vote against helping Ukrainian refugees, would you?”  All of this is in stark contrast to the party’s fight against the fictional corruption of what it calls “LGBT ideology.”  Even the party’s name, “Law and Justice” conjures up the image of an anti-corruption party, and yet an anti-corruption party it is not.

Czechia is a country which recently removed its corrupt anti-corruption party, the ANO (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), from office.  However, before that happened the ANO was just like Fidesz and Law and Justice.  ANO’s leader, Andrej Babis, is the second-richest person in Czechia and “has won elections based on a pretense that [he] is not a part of the establishment and that he would deal with [a] corrupted political elite.”  Despite this image of Babis as an anti-corruption crusader and his party’s name reflecting anti-corruption attitudes, after losing his election he is now on trial for committing fraud worth $2 million.

Corruption as discussed above is not just limited to EU countries either, as Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of the worst offenders in power right now.  Since he came to power almost 23 years ago, Putin has publicly waged a battle against Russia’s oligarchs – powerful Russian businessmen who hold monopolies over various Russian industries.  He rose to popularity in part because of his aim to clean up Russia after the difficulties of the Yeltsin administration, and this still bolsters his popularity.  Before his invasion of Ukraine, Putin was in hot water due to his lavish, multi-billion dollar mansion being revealed by Putin critic Alexei Navalny.  Navalny was later poisoned -narrowly surviving- and then jailed by the Russian government as retaliation.  After the invasion of Ukraine began, American sanctions on Russia are beginning to reveal the true extent of Putin’s wealth and his friendly connections with oligarchs who were ostensibly supposed to be his enemies.

Vladimir Putin’s lavish mansion on the Black Sea. Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56007943

Overall, Eastern Europe (both inside and outside the EU) provides some great examples of how populists portray themselves to be anti-corruption and then turn out to be corrupt themselves.  Additionally, when the corruption they initially railed against is defeated or if they are personally suspected of corruption, they tend to use scapegoats as a distraction.  Anti-corruption populists do often replace genuinely corrupt, non-populist governments. That corruption should not be ignored, but nor should anybody forget that the populist replacements are just as corrupt as those they replace, if not more so.  In the end, the anti-corruption populists are the new boss, same as the old boss.

Opinion Piece #2

Beating Them or Joining Them? The Conservatives and the Far Right in Britain by Aimee Brown

Tomorrow, Rishi Sunak will become the prime minister of Britain. He will, in fact, be the third prime minister in just seven weeks, a fact indicative of a level of dysfunction that makes being positive about British politics difficult. However, if pressed, one might observe that at least Britain no longer has a far-right populist party to worry about. After all, it was only a couple of years ago that the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) surprised everyone with its electoral success. But now, it has sunk back into electoral irrelevance. Surely this is cause for relief given the plethora of Britain’s continental neighbours in which far-right populist parties have experienced unprecedented electoral victories, most recently The Brothers of Italy and The Sweden Democrats. In contrast, Britain’s democratic institutions and mainstream parties seem to have successfully weathered the storm of populism.

And yet, perhaps the reason that UKIP doesn’t exist anymore is because it doesn’t have to. Following UKIP’s breakthrough in 2013, then prime minster David Cameron worked to beat the party by co-opting elements of its message, especially around immigration. Most significantly, the Conservative Party felt so threatened that Cameron called a referendum on Europe, which he infamously lost. This was UKIP’s great victory, after which it promptly collapsed as the Conservatives reinvented themselves as the party of Brexit. In essence, they rendered UKIP irrelevant by ceding to its demand. Former leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, has stated that “My achievement has been to take an issue that was considered to be completely wrong, perhaps even immoral, and help to turn it into a mainstream view in British politics.” UKIP’s sole representative in the House of Commons, reflecting on his party’s catastrophic 2017 election results, stated that he was “far from despondent. In fact, I am elated. Why? Because we have won.”

UKIP was not the first far-right rivel that the Conservative Party outflanked by co-opting its ideas. In 1967, the fascist National Front (NF) party was founded in response to opposition to immigration. A year later, Conservative member of Parliament Enoch Powell gave a speech in which he denounced immigration from the Commonwealth because it would have the result that “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” He further argued that banning racial discrimination in housing, employment, commerce, and public services would unfairly disadvantage “the indigenous population”, and that it would be like “throwing a match on to gunpowder.” He ended dramatically by saying that “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’”. Upon making the speech, Powell was immediately fired and his top-tier political career was effectively ended. However, recruitment to the National Front soared. According to a former party official, “Before Powell spoke, we were getting only cranks and perverts. After his speeches we started to attract, in a secret sort of way, the right-wing members of Tory organisations.” The National Front grew to claim over 12,000 members and enjoyed unprecedented success in the Greater London Council elections of 1977.

But in 1978, leader of the Conservative Party Margaret Thatcher gave a television interview in which she stated that “people are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people with a different culture.” Indeed, “the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in.” Of course, the frightened British people in question are presumed to be white, the immigrants are presumed not to be white (no mention of a terror of New Zealanders, for example), the verb ‘swamped’ is used twice for emphasis, and the end result of violence is implied. This interview did not signal a change in Thatcher’s policy so much as it did a change in the rhetoric used to talk about it. In effect, Thatcher had introduced the National Front’s racist discourse into mainstream politics and brought the exiled Powell’s ideas back into the fold of the Conservative Party. By doing so, she managed to steal the far-right’s thunder. After the interview, the Conservative Party enjoyed a dramatic surge in support and, a year later, won the general election. The National Front, on the other hand, failed to win a single seat and collapsed into irrelevance. Dead but not gone, it joins UKIP as a fellow anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic ghost that haunts a Conservative Party whose current dysfunction is not unrelated to its previous success in beating its far-right opponents by joining them.