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Right-Wing Political Parties Gain New Popularity In Europe


Austria is just one of many European countries where right-wing parties are growing stronger. So why now? To help answer that question, Andras Biro-Nagy joins us via Skype from Budapest, Hungary. He leads a center-left think tank there called Policy Solutions. Welcome to the program.

ANDRAS BIRO-NAGY: Good evening.

SHAPIRO: When you look across Europe at all of the various countries where right-wing parties are growing - Austria, Hungary, Sweden, France, so many others - what do these all have in common?

BIRO-NAGY: So what we see in all of these countries is that the so-called old establishment is not delivering enough for the public, especially to working class people. And it certainly gives a chance to some outsiders who demand changes to start to grow.

Of course, the economic crisis had quite a lot for these parties, especially in the southern part of Europe. So what we can see is that in Spain or in Greece or in Portugal, left-wing populists have risen quite a lot in the last few years while in other parts of the continent, in Northern Europe or in Western Europe, it's basically the far-right.

Those people who vote for those populist parties are fed up with the political elite and want serious change, just like in the United States where supporters of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders would like to see huge changes.

SHAPIRO: Many of these parties also seem to be talking a lot about immigration and the migrant and refugee crisis. How big a factor is that?

BIRO-NAGY: That's the most recent factor, actually. So of course there have been many waves of rising populism in Europe already, but last year, 2015, definitely brought a huge support for several of these right-wing populist parties, especially in countries which were affected heavily in the refugee crisis.

My country, Hungary, is an excellent example for that but also Austria, the country where a far-right politician almost won the presidency today. Also Germany can now see radical right-wing populist party for the first time ever since the Second World War.

And also, I could say that in Sweden now, one of the leading parties is the Sweden Democrats, which is a right-wing populist party again. So it clearly shows that the refugee crisis of last year has had a serious effect on the party systems of these countries.

SHAPIRO: How much of this trend is about formerly fringe parties doing a really good job at marketing themselves to the public, and how much is about what used to be the mainstream parties doing a really bad job in failing the people of their country?

BIRO-NAGY: There are both sides of the coin, of course. These radical right-wing parties - they market themselves as the parties of the 21st century while they say that the parties of the establishment belong to the 20th century. What I've just said is actually a soundbite from Hungary's far-right leader who describes his party as the party of the 21st century, the party that can offer solutions to the country in a new age.

SHAPIRO: I know some far-right parties have tempered their rhetoric to appear less racist, for example, just....


SHAPIRO: ...In recent years.

BIRO-NAGY: That's correct.

SHAPIRO: So is the far right becoming more mainstream by changing its platform and just moving more to the center?

BIRO-NAGY: What I see in the case of several far-right parties is that it's more communication than content in terms of change. So when we see the change, it refers normally to leaving behind racist comments.

But of course, in the party membership, you can still find some racist people. So it's more about how to reframe themselves for the public and not very serious changes content-wise.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that there is some commonality between the rhetoric that you hear from these European parties and the rhetoric that we've heard from Donald Trump. Does this trend extend globally beyond the U.S. and Europe? Is this something that you see happening in other places?

BIRO-NAGY: What I see happening in other places is the angriness of a lot of the people with the establishment. There's certainly a kind of populist wave throughout the world, especially in Europe and in the United States, yes.

SHAPIRO: Andras Biro-Nagy is the director of the Hungarian think tank Policy Solutions. Thank you for speaking with us.

BIRO-NAGY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.