American religious conservatives are fuelling Europe’s far-right surge, shifting power away from individuals who have universal rights and onto powerful institutions like churches, patriarchal family structures, the police and “strong leaders”
The Independent Voices
“The Bible, borders and Brexit” will “make Europe great again”, declared Ed Martin to roaring applause. The Republican pundit who co-wrote “The Conservative Case for Trump” was speaking at a global gathering of religious conservatives in Verona this March. Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini was a headline speaker.
Verona, Italy’s ancient “city of love”, is emblematic of how Europe is changing. The city is now a stronghold for Salvini’s Lega party which, together with right-wing populists across the continent, is challenging the laws and social norms that have defined European life for decades.
The rise of Europe’s far right has been well documented. Nativist parties are expected to win a record number of seats in this week’s elections to the European parliament in Brussels. There’s been feverish speculation about how attempted Russian interference will skew the results. Pollsters predict the far-right could redraw the political map of Europe. But what does this actually mean?
Some commentators question whether Europe’s far-right will actually be able to function as a unified bloc, given their nationalist priorities. The Poles and the Italians can’t agree about Russia. The Austrians and Italians can’t agree about their border.
This misses the point. Far less attention has been paid to the extent to which these European groups rely on each other – and often on American, as well as Russian, assistance. Together, they are seeking to redefine individual rights and freedoms in ways that will affect a majority of people in every European country.
There are obvious common policy priorities: many of Europe’s populists rail against Brussels ‘elites’ and say they want to repatriate a range of legislative powers, and they have common cause on migration, too. The difference between president Trump and Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban is that Orban actually built a wall – explicitly, as he put it, to “keep out the Muslim invaders”.
But there are also deeper alignments, often around an overtly conservative religious worldview. Many far-right leaders talk openly about defending or taking back “Christian Europe”. Orban put it in his party’s European elections manifesto. He and other far-right leaders frequently attack concepts such as “gender ideology”: a not-so coded pushback against hard-won women’s and LGBT+ rights. The far-right Vox party in Spain has vowed to roll back laws against gender-based violence, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party has pushed limits on contraception and abortion.