COVID-19: What’s There to Worry About? Part Three: Not European Far-Right Parties

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Photographs courtesy of CDC.ORG

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For the final article in this series on aspects of the current pandemic you may not be worried about but should be, there is actually good news to report. Initially, this article was meant to cover the potential for far-right parties in Europe to use the current crisis to bolster their positions politically and destabilize the European Union. In the period since I began this series, the opposite has proven true. 

As an abstraction, the current COVID-19 pandemic seems as if it would be a godsend to the far-right parties of Europe which have long advocated for shutting down national borders, limiting immigration and prioritizing national interests over the interests of Europe as a whole. The current pandemic offers a perfect pretense to justify these policies in the interest of limiting the spread of the virus, and in fact many European states have implemented some of the policies that these parties have advocated for. Countries such as Hungary, where the radical right already holds power, have made use of the pandemic to expand their already authoritarian power. However, in countries where the far right remains in opposition, the pandemic and the associated lockdowns have proven to be a curse rather than a blessing. 

Radical right parties are strengthened in large part by their ability to immediately seize media attention via highly provocative public statements and demonstrations. Also, crises often prove to be a boon, as they allow extremists to highlight the failures of the existing establishment and, in many cases, provide a clear enemy for them to target. However, the COVID-19 offers no such clear enemy, and the far-right parties currently face the same issue that many more moderately oppositional parties are facing. In the midst of a global pandemic, people are turning to existing governments – both because they are the entities actually leading the response, and also because they are a source of stability. According to Gallup, Donald Trump’s presidential approval rating in the United States was at 49 percent, the highest in his first term, in March before dropping back to 43 percent in April. In Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel offers an even more striking example according to the broadcaster ZDF, with an 80 percent approval rating for her handling of the crisis. There are things to be concerned about in the coming days, but as of right now, a far-right resurgence in Europe does not appear to be one of them.