This second decade of the 21st Century has experienced an increasing popularity of the far-right parties throughout all European countries.
Front National with Marine le Pen in France, Lega Nord (or Lega, as it now recognizes itself) with Matteo Salvini in Italy, Vox with Santiago Abascal Conde in Spain, Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid) with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, etc. Most of these parties share the same story: started out with political aggregation at regional level, gathering votes from municipalities or provinces, to then spark out towards the national battlefield. Thanks to their smart vision, targeting the right problems at the right times, they were able to face national and decades-strong standing parties like the Republicans’ party in France, or Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In Italy the far-right party Lega reached a political consensus of 34% at the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, with a double-digit margin to the Democratic Party and Five Star Movement. In the 2018 national election, only 1 years before, they were able to capture lower margins, with 17% share, while in the European election of 2014 barely reaching 6% of the national consensus. An extraordinary rise. However, they do not share only history, their views and answers to the current socio-economic problems seem to be related. Reactionary views, nationalists’ tendencies and rejection of the established social order are just a few of the many communalities of what are called far-right parties. Nevertheless, there is one last feature which has emerged to be a major topic of discussion within their manifestos and rallies’ rhetoric: anti-immigration sentiment, coming from an ideology of ethno-nationalism.
It is this last common feature that led many scholars to conduct an in-depth analysis of their electoral support, trying to understand the nature of the drivers of their late success. What is the strategic approach adopted by the European far-right parties to tackle the multiple socio-economic issues faced by our society in this beginning of the century?
Figure 1 retrievable from econstor
In the meantime, the socio-economic balance was threatened by a phenomenon which will never grow old for our society, immigration shocks. The same period of time has in fact seen a new phenomenon hitting the European stability, the significant immigrant inflows (Figure 1). Especially coming from the non-western countries (Africa and Asia in particular). Europe, since the implementation of the Schengen Agreement in 1985 has experienced a continuous intra-flow of labour force, thereof European citizens, among the 27 member states. Nevertheless, the Union quickly adapted to this first inner wave of immigration. The first struggles for the Western member states arose with the European enlargements of the 2000s, when significant groups of people moved out of their poor former-Soviet countries in search of better opportunities. However, the big test (which is still under process) came only in recent years with the continuous inflow of, mainly, asylum-seekers leaving their home countries devastated by war, famines and dictatorial regimes, in particular Africa and Asia. This phenomenon, certainly underestimated by national governments and addressed by poorly managed responses by both national and European immigration policies, left plenty of room for corrosive speculation. The European far-right parties saw the perfect opportunity to gear up their electoral campaigns. For the sole purpose of popularity, notwithstanding the casualties and deprived lives all the illegal migration routes were taking away, these parties found in the phenomenon the scape goat for this 21st century misery. From opportunity, it transformed into reality, to then turn into relevant political consensus. Playing the cat-and-mouse game has paid off.
One thing is however noticing the time-correlation between the rise of immigration flows and the alike rise of far-right parties, another is instead to explore this relationship looking at the actual numbers, which never lie. Can the data show us a significant and positive relationship between the number of immigrants in a particular region and the electoral support for the anti-immigration parties? And what factors bring European citizens to see this group of people escaping war and famines as a threat to their national and local stability? And what will later drag them to vote for those parties fomenting an anti-immigration sentiment?
To study this phenomenon, it is good practice to divide the argument into two sections, first we’ll analyse the macro level, a wider analysis of the problem, and then we’ll turn to the micro level. This latter study allows the analysis of all possible confounders that would otherwise provide obstacles in the breakdown of the causal relationship between the two variables of interest.