Expert Commentary

Right-wing extremism in Europe and beyond: Research roundup

2013 roundup of academic studies, published in the past few years, that shed light on the dynamics of right-wing extremism in Europe and provide wider political context.

Officials in Norway are examining links between the perpetrator of the deadly twin attacks in that country on July 22, 2011, and the right-wing extremism that reportedly fueled his actions.

As in the United States, Europe has experienced periodic incidents of violence from groups whose ideology is predicated on xenophobia and racism, and spurred by perceived threats to Christian or white racial identity.

The following academic studies, published in the past few years, shed some light on the dynamics of such extremism in Europe and provide wider political context.


“Revisiting the ‘Moderating Effects of Incumbency’: A Comparative Study of Government Participation and Political Extremism”
Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 2009

Findings: “To be sure, Western Europe’s extreme right shows few signs of dissipating. France’s Front National (FN) continues to enjoy institutional arenas (sub-national, national and supra-national) in which to espouse its policies of state-funded racial preferences, Holocaust denial, immigrant repatriation and euroscepticism.… Belgium’s xenophobic, separatist Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang, VB) in 2008 stood as the second-largest political party in the city of Antwerp (with 33.5% of the October 2006 municipal election vote), held 30 of the 124 seats in the Flemish Parliament, sent 17 members to the 150-seat national Chamber of Representatives, had five of 40 Senate seats, and occupied three of Belgium’s 25 seats in the European Parliament. Norway’s anti-welfare, anti-foreigner Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP), like its former namesake in Denmark (the now defunct Fremskridspartiet, FrP), captures headlines for its controversial approach to immigration policy and draws an increasingly large share of seats (22.1% of the 2005 national vote and 38 seats in the Storting).… The story of Norway’s extreme right is more similar to those of Denmark and France than of Belgium; in short, the mainstream parties have not sought clean hands at any expense. Instead, they largely tolerate the Progress Party’s (FrP) presence in the Storting and even enter into power-sharing alliances in local government. The 2001-2005 minority coalition of Conservatives, Christian Democrats and Liberals relied openly on support from the FrP to endure in office. While largely failing to address the root causes that prompt Norwegian voters to support the Progress Party, the moderate parties seek to cope with the challenge from the right through tactics of selective engagement. They then watch as the extreme-right pariah, once admitted into the halls of power, attempts its own self-destruction.”


“Explaining Workers’ Support for Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe: Evidence from Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland”
International Political Science Review, 2008

Findings: “During the 1990s, the working class [became] the core clientele of right-wing populist parties in Western Europe…We find questions of community and identity to be clearly more important than economic grievances. Hence, in Austria and Switzerland, the electoral success of right-wing populist parties among workers seems primarily due to cultural protectionism: the defense of national identity against outsiders. In Belgium, France, and Norway, cultural protectionism is complemented by deep-seated discontent with the way the countries’ democracies work.”


“Immigration Sceptics, Xenophobes or Racists? Radical Right-wing Voting in Six West European Countries”
European Journal of Political Research, 2008

Findings: “By using data from the first round of the European Social Survey (2003) involving six West European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway), this article differentiates between immigration scepticism and xenophobic attitudes. The analyses strongly indicate that xenophobic attitudes are a far less significant factor than immigration scepticism for predicting who will vote for the new radical right. Moreover, this article analyses the extent to which anti-immigration frames employed by radical right-wing parties resonate with attitudes held by supporting voters, and to what extent they make a difference for people’s decision to vote for the radical right. The analyses indicate that frames linking immigration to criminality and social unrest are particularly effective for mobilising voter support for the radical right.”


“Radical Right-wing Populism in Denmark and Sweden: Explaining Party System Change and Stability”
The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 2010

Findings: “In the past two decades Denmark and Sweden shared several important opportunity structures, in particular related to anti-immigrant sentiments among the electorates and feelings of disenchantment toward the political institutions. Yet, the two countries have diverged in some important ways: First, while the socioeconomic cleavage dimension had lost much of its importance in Danish politics, it was still highly salient in Swedish politics. Secondly, the issue of immigration has been much more politicized in Denmark than in Sweden where the socioeconomic dimension still dominates the agenda. Finally, although the Danish People’s Party and the Sweden Democrats share the same ideological core, and have used very similar rhetoric, the Sweden Democrats have been much more stigmatized as a result of their origin in and connections to the fascist movement.”


“Unemployment and Right-wing Extremist Crime”
Journal of Scandinavian Economics, 2011

Findings: “Our results suggest a strong and systematic relationship between regional unemployment and the incidence of REC [right-wing extremist crimes]. First, we find a significantly positive relation between state-level unemployment and the incidence of right-wing extremist criminal activities. The relation becomes significant once we control for state fixed effects and state-specific time trends, and when we take serial correlation of the error term into account. Second, we find that the gap in unemployment rates between East and West Germany can almost entirely explain the dramatic differences in REC between the two regions. The result that the relationship between unemployment and REC is non-linear further strengthens this conclusion.”


“Conservative and Right-Wing Movements”
Annual Review of Sociology, 2010

Findings: “Xenophobia is a long-standing characteristic of right-wing movements around the world … Historically, right-wing movements in the United States have been highly xenophobic and nationalist, working to stop immigration of nonwhites through law, force, and violence … This may be changing with the spread of pan-Aryanism and the desire for transnational alliances with other white supremacists around the world.”


Keywords: race, crime, research roundup, Europe, racism, xenophobia, populism

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