Meet the Donald Trumps of Europe

By Anthony Faiola

London's conservative former mayor Boris Johnson, France's pioneer Marine Le Pen and The Netherlands divisive Geert Wilders. Photos / Getty Images
London's conservative former mayor Boris Johnson, France's pioneer Marine Le Pen and The Netherlands divisive Geert Wilders. Photos / Getty Images

Europeans may be fretting about the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, but from Britain to Austria, the region is confronting its own surge of the populist right.

The new breed of nationalist in Europe is more disarming than the frothing-at-the-mouth, angry orators who once held sway over the far right in the region. Like Trump, some are drawing strength from the less educated and white working classes, tapping into a rash of fears that now span the Atlantic. Fears of migration, globalisation, underemployment and the loss of influence in a fast-changing and increasingly diverse world.

Republican Donald Trump is on the rise in the US. Photo / AP
Republican Donald Trump is on the rise in the US. Photo / AP

They may throw red meat at the masses, but these days, it's better cooked and presented, their policies served up with a smile, even a joke. In the past, nationalists may have struck fear into the hearts of those who heard them. Now, they are the purveyors of reality show-like entertainment. A few even come off as charming.

The populist right has already claimed a string of national victories behind the old Iron Curtain, with the nationalist rulers in Hungary and Poland, for instance, already generating serious concern as they deploy their brand of strong-arm politics against news media and political opponents. But the allure of populism is spreading west, into the core of Europe.

Here's a look at some of the far-right voices gunning for power in Western Europe.

Country: Austria

Who: Norbert Hofer

Hofer, 45, is the front-runner in this Sunday's presidential elections in Austria. His surprise win in the first round last month prompted the resignation of former chancellor Werner Faymann, whose earlier support for welcoming refugees sparked a public backlash.

In Austria, Hofer's rise is attributed in part to his easy manner, and he's been described by some as being just like your next-door neighbor. Although the role of president is traditionally ceremonial in Austria, he has vowed to fire the coalition government in charge if it doesn't control migration. If it rises to full power, his Freedom Party has vowed stricter border control, faster deportations of rejected migrants and increased monitoring of Muslim institutions, such as mosques and schools.

Country: France

Who: Marine Le Pen

In many respects, Marine Le Pen is Europe's pioneer in attempting to cast the populist far right in a more respectable light. Where her biological and political father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was overtly racist and particularly anti-Semitic in his remarks, Marine sought to sanitise the party and distance herself from such statements when she took over as leader of the National Front in 2011. She was also among the first to fully refocus far-right antipathy from Jews to Muslims - a switch now in full swing across the continent.

In December, Le Pen spectacularly lost her bid to govern the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. But her loss came only after the Socialists pulled out and begged voters to support her opponent. She is polling high enough to be a threat in the 2017 presidential elections, and she may at least make it to the second round of voting, when she would probably face a candidate from France's political mainstream.

Video

Country: Britain

Who: Boris Johnson

The king of political comedy, London's conservative former mayor with a trademark shock of straw-colored hair is known for blending his blind ambition with buffoonery. While not a card-carrying member of Europe's far right per se, his use of populist tactics has defined his career.

Now a member of Parliament, he has positioned himself as the even more conservative alternative to Prime Minister David Cameron. He is stoking nationalist sentiments in his bid to push Britain to exit the European Union - an institution he recently compared to Adolf Hitler.

Country: Norway

Who: Sylvi Listhaug

A rising star in her populist Progress Party, this daughter of Norwegian farmers is known for her reality-show-like aplomb, including a stunt that found her floating in a survival suit off the coast of Greece in an attempt to better understand the refugee crisis.

Since becoming Norway's migration minister in December, she has taken a harsh stance -- including deporting rejected asylum seekers to Russia in sub-zero weather in what may have been a breach of international law. Observers say she could rise to the highest ranks of her party.

Country: Denmark

Who: Kristian Thulesen Dahl

Thulesen Dahl does away with the notion that there are no soft-spoken populists, leading his Danish People's Party to electoral gains with even-tempered finesse. Yet he has done it while stoking the fires of fear over migration. In 2013, Thulesen Dahl called on Denmark to accept fewer immigrants from Muslim countries and has suggested there is no room in his country for more Muslims. In 2015, he led his party to stunning gains that made it the second-largest party in Parliament.

Country: The Netherlands

Who: Geert Wilders

One of the most divisive political figures in Europe, far-right Geert Wilders has seen his popularity ebb and flow over the years. But he has seemingly capitalised on the refugee crisis, claiming allegations of rape and abuse of European women by migrants is proof of the anti-Islam warnings he's been issuing for years.

He has compared the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf and called for a ban on Muslim immigration. More recently, he has handed out fake cans of pepper spray to women while warning against "Islamic testosterone bombs". A January poll showed his Freedom Party surging in popularity.

- Washington Post

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 26 Feb 2017 22:39:04 Processing Time: 1001ms