As elections approach in the Netherlands, France and Germany, people interested in immigration issues are no doubt focused on the chances of the far-right parties, whose platforms focus explicitly on reducing flows of immigrants and refugees. The Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) has promised to reduce immigration of Muslims, leave the European Union, and strengthen borders. The Front National‘s (FN) Marine Le Pen has similarly proposed a Brexit-like referendum to leave the European Union and opposes immigration of refugees and EU migrants into France. And Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) calls for closing German borders to Europe and revamping the law to reduce asylum.
All three of these parties have seen major increases in popularity in their home countries, with both PVV and FN leading in some polls, while AfD, although losing a bit of support, is still making a very strong showing considering the relative newness of their party and their position in comparison to more established national parties such as the Greens. As a result, some are saying that, after Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, Europe should be prepared for a big upset.
So will this be the year of sweeping far-right victories across European elections?
We at Migration Voter aren’t counting it out, but each of these parties face a major stumbling block. Without securing support of different parties who will be willing to either endorse them or form coalitions with them, it will be incredibly difficult for any of these parties to transform popular support into a governing role. Let’s look at each case to understand why.
The PVV is strong and stable with circa 28% in February. Maintaining this, they will clearly make it into parliament and have a legislative role in the Tweede Camer (lower house) of Dutch parliament.
But as our Dutch election explainer shows, once making it into parliament, the parties negotiate- sometimes for months- to form a governing coalition. This coalition need not include the party who received the most votes, which means that other parties can exclude Wilders and PVV if they wish to- and that is exactly what Mark Rutte, current PM and head of second most popular party Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD), has promised to do. “The chances that the VVD will rule with PVV are zero. It’s not going to happen,” he reportedly told Dutch TV in January. For PPV to bypass the VVD they would need to gather other coalition partners, like the Socialists or the Democrats, which also seems unlikely. The party will regardless have a strong position in parliament, but they desperately need friends in other parties to move beyond the role of opposition. With Dutch elections a few weeks away, it’s now or never.
Marine Le Pen of the FN is also making a very strong showing in France but faces a similar problem.
Le Pen looks positioned to lead in the first presidential election, where she faces off against multiple other candidates and holds a decently commanding lead with 25% in most recent polls.
However, in the second round she faces off against only one other candidate- the second place winner, which at this point looks most likely to be either center-right ex-PM Francois Fillon or independent Emmanuel Macron.
It should be noted that both of these candidates have major weak spots: Fillon has been accused of embezzling large sums of public funds to pay his wife and other family members for jobs they did not perform, an allegation that is currently under investigation by police (and has been dubbed “#Penelopegate” by the media, after Fillon’s wife.) Macron meanwhile stands for a brand new party, En Marche!, which he bills as “breaking the obsolete partisan dichotomy” of left or right, but as such lacks the advantage of backing from an established party. (If, as some have suggested, leftists Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon join forces as a leftist coalition, this will obviously change the equation entirely. But the idea remains entirely hypothetical, for now.)
Nevertheless, the ability of both candidates- especially Macron- to gather votes from their opponents’ supporters leaves them comfortably surpassing Le Pen in the second round. The FN boasts strong and stable support from their core voters, but once it becomes a two person race, their lack of allies makes it very difficult to gain new supporters outside of their loyal core. Their competitors, on the other hand, may have a much easier time receiving endorsements and votes from the shut-out parties, as even Fillon can present himself as a more palatable alternative for liberals than Le Pen. With a few months to go, we will be closely watching whether Le Pen can broaden her appeal or make some new partners.
The AfD is currently in the most precarious situation of these three, as they have seen their poll numbers decline over the last few months. However, they also have the longest stretch ahead until the September election to convince voters of their program.
An amalgamated poll shows AfD currently at 10% in voting intentions, down from 14% in August. As our Germany election explainer shows, this is more than enough to get them into national parliament, and doesn’t rule out the possibility of being part of a ruling coalition. What does make that possibility more far-fetched is the party’s inability to make coalition partners.
The second most conservative large party in Germany is the ruling coalition of the Christian Democrats and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) the coalition of Angela Merkel, and they have definitely ruled out a coalition with the AfD (at the national level, at any rate.) The parties to the left of the CDU/ CSU seem even less likely to join with the AfD. One rumor floating around has the CSU splitting from CDU to form a governing coalition with AfD and the neo-liberal FDP. However, the CSU currently only fields candidates in Bavaria, and it would be a large shift to become a national party in time for this election. And the FDP, currently polling around 6%, is barely guaranteed a place in the parliament, let alone in a position to play kingmaker for the AfD.
Nevertheless, elections are still a ways off in Germany and with Martin Schulz entering the Chancellor race as leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the outcome is anything but settled.
As with the PVV and the FN, the AfD is having trouble translating success among a solid segment of voters into a chance to lead and form policy. Will this election convince these parties to branch out to make friends from other, more liberal parties? The answer could have a dramatic impact on immigration and refugee policy in Europe.
Read more- sources and further literature
“After Brexit, the People’s Spring is Inevitable” – op-ed by Marine Le Pen in the New York Times
“Dutch Premier Rules Out Coalition Role for Wilders” – Financial Times
“François Fillon sinks in polls after ‘Penelopegate’ scandal” – The Guardian
Official Website of En Marche! – “The Movement” (in French)
–> But, for different intepretation, see: What does the Secret Meeting Between Hamon and Melechon change? – HuffPo France (in French)
(Image of Geert Wilders via Flickr, http://bit.ly/2lg20lG)