Trump, Brexit & Europe's populist march to the right

The delight from far-right leaders following The Donald’s victory over Hillary Clinton suggests many feel a sea change is coming to the Continent as well...

Trump, Brexit & Europe's populist march to the right

Picture by Peter Dejong AP/Press Association Images

Taoiseach Enda Kenny might have been forced to explain himself after many Irish took umbrage with him congratulating US President-elect Donald Trump on his victory yesterday – having previously referred to the one-time Apprentice star as “racist and dangerous” – but in some parts of continental Europe, major figures were unashamedly cheering on America’s conversion to Trumpism.

Aside from applause in the Kremlin as Russia spied an opportunity to cosy up to its grand old enemy, there was a whole host of politicians of a populist bent, with a far-right view or two and a desire for power, rejoicing at the news.

In France, “Le Pen” is a name synonymous with the right wing and Marine, current National Front president and daughter of Jean-Marie, was among the first to give "President Trump" her seal of approval, praising the “free” American people.

Here’s what one of her top aides thought of the development:

In the Netherlands, where discontent with the status quo is also begin to bubble over, far-right MP Geert Wilders got on the bandwagon early doors...

Greece's Golden Dawn party, which is the third largest in the country and considered Europe's nastiest far-right group, declared: "A great global change is starting. [It] will continue with nationalists prevailing in Austria, Marie Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece."

As for Austria, Freedom party leader Heinz-Christian Strache popped up on Facebook with this assessment:

“Bit by bit, the political left and the out-of-touch and corrupt establishment is being punished by voters and driven from the seats of power. That’s a good thing, because the law comes from the people.

“Once again Austrian mainstream media, which has been campaigning against Trump for weeks and prematurely declared Hillary Clinton the victor, were embarrassed by the voting public."

Those premature media declarations and the off-base predictions from the pollsters echoed, of course, what occurred in Britain this summer.

Against – literally – all the odds, the people opted for a Brexit, apparently liking what they were hearing from the pro-Leave likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. 

Farage has been closely allied with Trump for some time, giving himself a good deal of credit for the New Yorker's populist appeal along the way and probably hoping for a position on his team at this point.

Brexit providing an opening

In many ways, the former British MEP is right in how Brexit got the ball rolling for populism and set in motion a pendulum swing to the right of the political spectrum. There has been growing hostility towards the perceived established order in the US and Europe for some time, but the June referendum was the first occasion on which it made a properly seismic, official and by all accounts indelible mark.

It was, fundamentally, a victory for Farage's UK Independence Party (UKIP) and its angry opposition to immigration, achieved at the end of an extremely ugly campaign that turned so violent that an elected British official, Labour MP Jo Cox, was murdered in cold blood, on a street in West Yorkshire.

Brexit was greeted warmly by Eurosceptic groups in various different countries.

Even Trump, perhaps not as clued-in on British politics as he would like you to believe, hailed the referendum result and was quick to draw comparisons with his own 'Make America Great Again' movement. There were obvious similarities: blaming economic ills on refugees, mistrusting those already holding the reins of power.

Touching down at his Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland, the billionaire said:

"I think it's a great thing that's happened. It's an amazing vote, very historic.

"People are angry all over the world. They're angry over borders, they're angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are.

"They're angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places.

"This will not be the last."

If Brexit created a domino effect, playing a part this week in installing Trump in the White House, we know that America wasn't the only domino on the board. The US election could well continue the chain reaction, increasing momentum within the populist movement back over on this side of the Atlantic. What, then, of those "many other places" and which populist movements are the most capable of bringing about the next big change?

On the horizon

First, then, to France. As previously mentioned, the 48-year-old Marine Le Pen replaced her father at the head of the National Front in 2011 and is, as such, the country's leading rightwing voice today. She uses that voice to call for bans on wearing the Islamic veil in public and "Frexit" from the EU.

Immigration and globalisation are high up on Le Pen's list of grievances, and she'll be hoping the French electorate are on her page when it comes to next May's election. 

Speaking on Trump's win with an eye to her own nation's 2017 vote, she said:

"This election should be interpreted as the victory of freedom.

"Let’s bet that it will give another reason for the French, who cherish freedom so much, to break with a system that hampers them."

According to the Financial Times, both commentators and Le Pen rivals agree that her chances of winning have improved because of the events in the US. 

“The probability of Marine Le Pen’s election has increased with Brexit and now Trump’s election because they are giving more credibility to the radical, populist vote,” Dominique Reynie, head of centre-right think tank FondaPol told the FT.

“They create precedents that will remove the mental barriers of voting for Ms Le Pen. Voters will say: 'After all, others have done it and the world has not collapsed.'"

It is still thought, however, that Le Pen's shot at the presidency is highly unlikely... Which we've heard before.

Former French PM Dominique de Villepin noted:

“France and the US are like twins. What is possible in the US is possible in France, even if the system is refusing to see it.”

Before 2016 is even out, Italy's political landscape could have an entirely different complexion. The country is set to hold a referendum on December 4th, ostensibly about limiting the powers of its Senate to streamline the passing of legislation. However, much like David Cameron in the UK, Italian PM Matteo Renzi has staked his political future on it (though he has backtracked strongly on an early promise to resign if it did not pass).

It seems highly likely that populist forces will view the referendum as a way of irreparably damaging the current centre-left government.

Renzi has already faced far-right criticism for supporting Hillary Clinton and ending up on the losing side. Renato Brunetta, leader of Silvio Berlusconi's old Forza Italia party, commented after the result:

"From this day forward Matteo Renzi is politically finished, he is a dead man walking. No other European country sided with one of the two contenders like Italy did. Now Renzi must reap the consequences and take responsibility for his bad choices."

The Five Star Movement and Northern League are also predicting that Renzi is a busted flush. Both groups want Italy to leave the euro, with the Northern League's Matteo Salvini arguing that the currency is "melting away like a gelato left out in the August sun."

Five Star Movement founder (and former comedian) Beppe Grillo said of Trump's election:

"It's crazy. This is the explosion of an era. It's the apocalypse of the media, TV, the big newspapers, the intellectuals, the journalists."

Finally, we return to the Netherlands. 

Back in May, Daily Show host Trevor Noah was introducing an American audience to the "Dutch Trump" and we're very much in uncanny valley when it comes to his tweeting...

... and his eye-catching blond bouffant:

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has hailed his US doppelgänger's political ascension as a “historic victory” and a “revolution", and is clearly hoping he can keep this "Patriotic Spring" going on his own soil.

“The lesson for Europeans is look at America," Wilders said. "What America can do we can do as well.”

With the Netherlands set to hold their general elections next March, Wilders is standing on an anti-EU, anti-Islam platform. Unlike Trump and Brexit, his Freedom Party is riding high in the opinion polls...