Fear politics: The rise of Europe’s anti-immigrant parties

Amanda Battle, Contributing Writer

Fear became one of the most powerful political tools of 2016. In the recent American presidential election, Donald Trump appealed to fears of immigration and terrorism while Hillary Clinton appealed to fears of extremism and hate. But the politics of fear aren’t unique to the United States. Many European politicians are finding success with fear-based appeals as well.

Fear politics is not a new phenomenon, and political scientists must be careful when evaluating its impact. Fear-based appeals can only succeed when the voters’ fears exist prior to the candidate’s campaign. The politician then validates and perpetuates the fears that voters believe other politicians have ignored. Then, the politician persuades the voters that they, and only they, can save the nation from the unknown and supposedly dangerous future.

As political scientist Shana Gadarian discusses in The Atlantic and in her journal article “The Politics of Threat: How Terrorism News Shapes Foreign Policy Attitudes,” “When people feel anxious, they want to be protected.” Within Europe, immigration has increased along with support for anti-immigrant political parties. This trend can be found in other Western societies such as France, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, and Austria.

The Netherlands

Geert Wilders leads the Party for Freedom (PVV), a far-right anti-immigrant Dutch political party. In the Netherlands, March 2017 legislative elections are fast approaching. In preparation, the PVV released a one-page manifesto, detailing its policy proposals, which include: “de-Islamification” of the Netherlands, a blanket ban on migrants from Islamic countries, a ban on the Quran, the closing of Islamic schools and asylum centers, and a ban on women wearing religious head coverings in public. Furthermore, the PVV desired to withdraw from the European Union.

At a rally in 2014, Wilders asked his supporters, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?” The crowd chanted back, “Fewer, fewer, fewer!” He is currently facing trial for these statements, which have been considered hate speech.

In response to the results of the U.S. election, Wilders tweeted Trump’s win was “historic.” According to DutchNews, the PVV has approximately 16.7 percent support, just trailing behind the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which has 19.3 percent support according to a September poll.


Marine Le Pen is the president of the far-right French National Front (FN) party, and built her campaign on anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric. She, like Wilders, has been charged with the crime of hate speech, following her 2010 comments about Muslims in France at a rally. “I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War II, if we’re talking about occupation, we could talk about that [street prayers], because that clearly is an occupation of the territory,” Le Pen said.

While FN hasn’t revealed its manifesto for the upcoming 2017 presidential election in February, Le Pen has publicly supported a ban on Islamic organizations and stated that France must close radical mosques. The FN party supports a stricter immigration policy. Prior to poll upsets from Brexit and the U.S. election, analysts believed Le Pen had small probability of winning the presidency. Now, she appears to be a front-runner in the election, and was one of the first to congratulate Trump on his victory. She referred to the election results as “good news for France.”

Marine Le Pen also celebrated election victories for Alternative for Germany, the anti-immigration party in neighboring Germany.


Frauke Petry leads the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. AfD recently won state elections and is gaining increasing support. According to the party manifesto, “Islam is not part of Germany” and those in support of Islamic values are viewed as incompatible with those of Germany.

Additionally, the manifesto endorsed a ban on burqas and minarets, two major components of publicly expressing and practicing the Islamic faith. The AfD was founded by Bernd Lucke, who left the party last summer after condemning its rising xenophobia. Petry expressed her congratulations to Trump this past week, tweeting “This election result is encouraging for Germany and for Europe.”


Rising anti-immigration politicians can be found in Austria within the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), led by Heinz-Christian Strache. In the recent presidential election, the Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer nearly won the election. Hofer received 49.7 percent of the vote, falling behind Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen, who won with 50.3 percent of the vote. The FPO’s manifesto has been labeled “Eurosceptic” as it opposes immigration, Islam, and the EU.

United Kingdom

The U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union following a referendum vote is also evidence of the rise of anti-immigration politics. As a member of the EU, the U.K. agreed to the current Dublin Regulation of refugee and asylum seeking policies, standards, and laws. Some political analysts perceive the Brexit decision as reflective of voters’ desire to move towards national policies that favor migration less. The U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage believes a strong and safe migration policy will not ever be possible if the U.K. remains in the EU, but claims the party does not oppose foreigners. However, Farage unveiled a poster depicting non-white migrants and refugees and text that says, “Breaking point: The EU has failed us all.” Farade also told talkRADIO he “couldn’t be happier” about Trump’s election.

Other European nations have rising support for right-wing, anti-immigration parties, as well. Greece has the Golden Dawn party, which the Huffington Post describes as a neo-Nazi party. Sweden has the Sweden Democrats party, which has strong stances against Sweden’s migration and refugee policies.

The next year will be extremely influential regarding the future of the EU, immigration policies, and the refugee crisis. As campaigning continues, we will wait and see how effective fear-based appeals are in Europe. But as American author Suzanne Collins once said, “The only thing stronger than fear is hope.”

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