Rise of anti-immigration politics in Italy, Austria

Rise of nativist ant-im­migration politics looks to continue throughout Europe into 2017 follow­ing resignation of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Beppe Grillo, the founder of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, talks during a march in support of the ‘No’ vote in the upcoming constitutional reform referendum in Rome, on November 26th. (Reuters)


2016/12/11 Issue: 85 Page: 16


The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey



London - The rise of nativist ant-im­migration politics looks to continue throughout Europe into 2017 follow­ing the resignation of Italian prime minister Matteo Ren­zi and the rise of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.

Renzi announced he would be stepping down after a referendum defeat December 4th, with far-right parties portraying a popular “No” vote against his proposed constitutional reform as an impor­tant victory for populist anti-estab­lishment politics. The anti-estab­lishment Five Star Movement and anti-immigration Northern League party look set to dominate post- Renzi Italian politics.

Both parties are opposed to the eurozone and current levels of im­migration from the Middle East and North Africa but not Italian membership of the European Un­ion itself.

Italy has seen unprecedented il­legal immigration across the Medi­terranean from Libya. An estimated 27,500 migrants and refugees land­ed on Italian shores in October, the highest recorded monthly figure and more than twice as many as in September, European border agen­cy Frontex reported. Figures such as this are expected to increase.

France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen, an ally of the North­ern League who has also spoken out against immigration, posted on Twitter: “The Italians have disa­vowed the EU and Renzi. We must listen to this thirst for freedom of nations.”

Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo, a former comedian who founded the party in 2009, called for an early election before the end of the year following Ren­zi’s resignation. Italy’s next elec­tions are scheduled for 2018.

The Five Star Movement has be­come increasingly popular over the past five years, receiving the third highest number of votes in the 2012 local elections and winning the second most popular votes at the 2013 general election.

“Democracy was the winner,” Grillo wrote in a post-vote blog. Many Italian political analysts said the Five Star Movement, thanks to its broad appeal among Italy’s working and middle classes, could easily emerge on top at forthcom­ing elections possibly leading to a change in Italy’s response to immi­gration.

“The people have won,” tweeted Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigration Northern League par­ty following the referendum vote. The rise of populist anti-establish­ment politics in Italy, as represent­ed by the Five Star Movement and the Northern League, echoes the rise of similar politics such as the UK Independence Party in Britain, the National Front in France and Donald Trump in the United States.

There has been a push back from EU officials following Brexit and the clear rise of nativist politics not just in the United Kingdom and France but a number of other EU countries following mass immigration amid the worst refugee crisis since the end of the second world war.

EU leaders celebrated the defeat of far-right Freedom Party can­didate Norbert Hofer in Austria’s presidential elections as a rare ray of light for traditional mainstream politics. Former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen pledged to be an “open-minded, liberal-minded and above all a pro-Euro­pean president”.

Austrian Green party politician Werner Kogler described Van der Bellen’s victory as a “small global turning of the tide in these uncer­tain, not to say hysterical and even stupid times”.

Despite failing to secure the presi­dency, which is a largely ceremonial position in Austria, the far-right anti-immigration and eurosceptic Freedom Party was upbeat about the future. “We made history yes­terday. 2017 will be the year of the Freedom Party! Our time comes,” said Freedom Party leader Heinz- Christian Strache.

Many liberals and ethnic minorities have expressed concern about the rise of Austria’s Freedom Party, particularly towards its stance on immigration. Defeated presidential candidate Norbert Hofer had been particularly outspoken against Islam in his campaign. “Islam is not a part of Austria,” he said.

Such Islamophobic statements had gained Hofer a following among many Austrians, which is also witnessing an unprecedented migration crisis. Vienna pushed through a controversial law in April restricting the rights of asylum and allowing claimants to be rejected at the border. The heightened ten­sions surrounding Austria’s migra­tion crisis has led to the popular emergence of anti-immigration right-wing views as espoused by the Freedom Party.

“As a lone party against the So­cial Democrats, the People’s Party, the Greens, other parties, the entire media and several major business­men in the country, we still took some 2 million votes. That puts us in pole position for the parliamen­tary elections,” Anton Mahdalik, a Freedom Party councillor in Vien­na, told the Daily Telegraph, a Brit­ish newspaper.

Again, Le Pen, the standard-bearer for far-right politics in mainland Europe, was on hand to beat the anti-establishment drum. “Congratulations to the Freedom Party who fought with courage. The next legislative elections will see their victory,” she tweeted after the vote.

The next Austrian parliamentary elections are to take place before 2018 with the Freedom Party eye­ing an increase on its 2013 third-place finish.


Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.


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