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Germany's AfD reflects Europe's shift to the right

June 26, 2023

Germany's far-right AfD party has won its first governing post on a district council in the state of Thuringia. It's just the latest political gain in a wider European shift to the right.

An older voter puts a ballot into the ballot box
Voters in Sonneberg elected AfD candidate Robert Sesselmann on SundayImage: Martin Schutt/dpa/picture alliance

Sunday's election result in a small district in east Germany's Thuringia region has jubilant leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) hoping to make further gains in regional elections set for 2024.

But the advances made by the far right haven't just been limited to Germany. Here's an overview of the wider shift across Europe.


One of Europe's last left-wing bastions fell in May, when the ruling left-wing alliance led by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was badly punished in local and regional elections. Sanchez subsequently called a snap general election for July 23.

The Popular Party (PP) party's candidate for re-election as Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso celebrates
Isabel Diaz Ayuso won reelection in Madrid in MayImage: JAVIER SORIANO/AFP

The winner in Madrid was Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a leading conservative figure in the Popular Party who was reelected. She has made a name for herself ridiculing feminism, transgender rights, equal rights, the protection of minorities and climate protection at strident campaign events.

But even more noteworthy was the rise of the far-right Vox party, which will likely co-govern in many municipalities and autonomous regions. It was no coincidence that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was among the first to congratulate the party on its election results.


Orban has provided the blueprint for Europe's shift to the right. In April 2022, he secured his fourth consecutive term in office, despite a united campaign by the opposition which had high hopes of making it into government.

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Orban and his right-wing nationalist Fidesz party head what he calls an "illiberal democracy," based on the Russian model. Xenophobia has been a cornerstone of his government agenda for years. His justification for a refusal to welcome refugees in 2015 was that Hungarians "do not want to become a mixed race," and that multicultural Western European countries "are no longer nations."


After Orban's election victory in 2022, Marine Le Pen was quick to send her congratulations to Budapest. Her far-right National Rally party made huge gains in parliamentary elections in 2022, winning 89 seats and forming the biggest far-right group in any French parliament since World War II.

Marine Le Pen in her office, smiling
Marine Le Pen has set her sights on the presidency for yearsImage: JB Autissier/PanoramiC/imago images

The next step would be a victory in the 2024 European elections, which is no longer an impossibility after 10 years of increasing voter support for the far right in France.


Giorgia Meloni's radical right-wing Brothers of Italy party has seen a much more rapid rise. Rooted in the country's fascist past, it seemed to come out of nowhere to win Italy's parliamentary elections in September 2022, making Meloni the country's first female prime minister.

The party's coat of arms features a flame of green, white and red — which for the Italian right symbolizes the eternal flame on the grave of former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

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Meloni, who began her career in a neofascist youth organization, is a Mussolini apologist, calling him "a complex personality who has to be seen in context."


By contrast, Jimmie Akesson, leader of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats, had a long way to go to achieve far-right status. In his younger years, he was still considered a moderate.

Today, he wants to "make Sweden great again" in the style of former US President Donald Trump. In the 2022 parliamentary elections, the party founded in 1988 by members of the far-right scene rose to become the country's second-strongest political force.

Since then, the Sweden Democrats have been pressuring the ruling center-right government with their anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric. Akesson has called Islam Sweden's "greatest external threat since World War II."


Scandinavia's most successful populists have found imitators in neighboring Finland. There, a four-party alliance that includes the Finns Party, formerly known as the True Finns, made it into government in April 2023. The right-wing populist party, whose leader Riikka Purra won the position of finance minister, was able to secure seven cabinet posts.

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Purra, who once supported the environmentalist Greens, wants to put Finland back on the "right track" with a "paradigm shift" in migration by dropping the refugee quota to 500.


Yet Purra seems mild when compared with Marian Kotleba, head of the neofascist People's Party Our Slovakia and one of the country's most radical neo-Nazis. This is a man who agitates against Roma, Jews and homosexuals and likes to be called the Slovak equivalent of Führer by his followers.

Marian Kotleba looks on as people holding flags gather at the main square of Michalovce
Marian Kotleba is one of Slovakia's most radical neo-NazisImage: Marek Molnar/AA/picture alliance

In 2022, he was handed a suspended sentence for "promoting an ideology that endangers democracy" and had to give up his seat in the national parliament. But this has done little to diminish his party's success.

Having secured 17 seats in the Slovak National Council with 8% in the 2020 parliamentary elections, the party expects to make even greater gains in a snap election on September 30.


That was the case in Greece over the weekend, with conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis easily winning a second term with a record-high margin over the left-wing opposition.

Meanwhile, the right-wing populist Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution), the ultranationalist and ultrareligious Niki (Victory) and the Spartans (successor to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which was banned in 2020) all entered the Greek parliament with a combined share of almost 13% of the vote.

This article was originally published in German.

Oliver Pieper | Analysis & Reports
Oliver Pieper Reporter on German politics and society, as well as South American affairs.