The European rise of mainstream conservatism
A significant event took place in Europe last week. A number of countries reintroduced border controls in an attempt to arrest the flow of North African refugees into Europe.
The action stems from Italy’s decision to hand temporary resident visas to French speaking Tunisians who then sought to enter France via rail. The French authorities prevented the train from entering their territory and labelled Italy as irresponsible.
Although Italy has acted within the letter of the law, France (and other nations) accuse it of acting outside of the spirit of the EU Schengen Agreement which allows for the free movement of people within member nations.
As the French experience with immigration has seen widespread problems with integration, welfare dependency and social cohesion, there is little wonder they are concerned.
Last week they sought to address some of these challenges to French culture, security and secularism by banning facial coverings in public spaces.
There is a sense too that the new law and the border checks are too little, too late. Events suggest that the politicians have acted well behind public opinion in addressing community concerns – a feature of politics not limited to the Gallic state.
This has seen the rise of what the popular press dub ‘far right-wing’ parties in many countries. In France, the National Front led by Marine Le Pen is now seen as a genuine contender for the next Presidential runoff.
Similar political parties are blooming all over Europe – in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Hungary to name but a few – and they are all meeting with various measures of electoral success.
It is interesting that many of these parties are growing in Scandinavian nations which have previously been considered the hallmarks of tolerance and harmony.
Many of their citizens now consider that this tolerance and support has been exploited by those who do not share their traditional views on democracy or equality.
A number of these new parties have a nationalist focus, with a policy agenda of higher tax, market controls and more state authority featuring strongly. What the media conveniently describes as the ‘extreme-right’ could equally be considered ‘hard-left’ and some are in fact quasi-facist in nature.
This should be of concern to all supporters of freedom and democracy. The correct response to fraying social-cohesion is not the protectionist, state-oriented politics of decades past.
The solution is reducing the welfare state, providing no indulgence of intolerent social or political ideologies, lowering taxes and supporting the ideas of personal freedom and responsibility.
Thankfully, there are also significant mainstream centre-right parties that are gaining support on widespread voter dissatisfaction using such a platform.
In the United Kingdom, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) has grown into a significant electoral force. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom (PVV) is the third largest party holding 24 seats in their 150 member parliament.
Coincidently, the Dutch legislature is divided 76 – 74 (just like Australia’s) with Wilders’ group giving majority support to the government. Although the PVV platform is very strong on the anti-Islamisation of the Netherlands, it has no links with the facist movement and can only be considered a mainstream conservative party.
Derided by critics as ‘populist’, these new mainstream conservative parties are more intent on cutting the size of government, reducing the growing deference to the EU, cutting taxes and providing the maximum amount of personal freedom within the secure nation state.
With a policy agenda like that, it is little wonder that there is growing popular support for their message.
Cory Bernardi is a South Australian Liberal senator. His columns and essays are available at his website.