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the threat from the far right

Europe in the world 2019
August 1936, Spain in civil war, four columns of Francisco Franco are marching towards Madrid. Against this background a journalist asks Franco’s general Emilio Mola with which of his four columns he would conquer Madrid, whereupon the general responds: "con la quinta columna" (with the fifth column)”, referring to the falangistas, the sympathizers of the Franco uprising, in the population of the city. (Borja, Rodrigo: quinta columna, Enciclopedia de la Política, 16.07.2018 (1)). – Thus, the “fifth column”, the term for those who collaborate with a hostile force from outside, was born.

1. The rise of the far-right parties and its causes

Against the background of mass immigration in Europe in the last years, far-right parties all over the continent are rising and threatening the cohesion of the EU. According to a Time article it’s above all the five countries Italy, Sweden, Germany, France and Hungary that show how the European far-right is growing in power. (Bremmer, Ian: These 5 Countries Show How the European Far-Right Is Growing in Power, Time, 13.09.2018 (2)). To these countries one could add those British who want to leave the EU adhering to illusory dreams of national independence. In the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 parties of the far-right were the strongest parties in the following countries: France, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK. In France the RN reached 23,31%, while its predecessor, the FN, reached 24,86% in 2014. In Hungary the coalition FIDESZ and KDNP reached 52,14% in 2019 and 51,48% in 2014. In Italy the Lega reached 34,33% in 2019 and the predecessor LN only 6,25% in 2014. In Poland the PiS reached 45,38% in 2019 and 31,78% in 2014. In the UK the Brexit Party reached 30,74% in 2019 and the UKIP 26,77% in 2014. As it is the country with the largest population and the strongest economy in Europe, let’s add Germany where the AfD reached 11,00% in the 2019 elections and 7,10% in 2014, what is quite much for the country. (European Parliament: 2019 European election results (10)).

Happy about these trends of internal division in Europe, the Russians that are interested in a weak Europe are supporting the far-right parties and in exchange hoping for a Russia-friendly policy. So, there are Russia-connections of far-right parties in Hungary, Italy, Germany, France and the UK (Adrienne Klasa, Valerie Hopkins, Guy Chazan, Henry Foy, Miles Johnson: Russia’s long arm reaches to the right in Europe, Financial Times, 23.05.2019 (3)).

The first step towards the rise of the far right in Europe was done already in 2011 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron who bombed away Libya’s head of state Muammar al-Gaddafi and created a chaos in the country that made an effective control of the Mediterranean border impossible, thus allowing the transit of people from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya towards Europe. The second step was done by US President Barack Obama in 2014 when he started the war against the IS terrorists in Syria what led to increased refugee flows from this country. The third and decisive step was done by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 who welcomed the refugees to Germany with the well-known words “wir schaffen das! (we’ll make it)” (Merkel, Angela: Sommerpressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel, 31.08.2015 (4)) creating thus an incentive for them to get on the way to Europe. Thus, according to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR the numbers of arrivals in Europe shot up in 2015 reaching a peak of 1.032.408, in 2016 the numbers fell to additional 373.652 and then under 200.000 (UNHCR: Mediterranean Situation, August 2019 (5)) – thanks to European countermeasures. These include above all the payment of 6 billion euros to Turkey that commits itself, in exchange, to prevent refugees from moving on to Europe (European Council: EU-Turkey statement, 18.03.2016 (6)). Another important countermeasure is related to Libya where the EU’s CSDP operation EUNAVFOR MED Sophia was thought to stop migration from Africa to Europe using own ships and training the Libyan Coastguard and Navy (EEAS: Factsheet about mission EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia, Rome 24.09.2015, updated 19.03.2019 (7)).

The problem with this mass immigration is that these migrants figure disproportionately in criminality statistics. As most of them don’t stay in Greece, Italy or whatever country they arrive first, but continue their way to Germany, I take this country as an example. Thus, the German Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) published in 2018 the report “Kriminalität im Kontext von Zuwanderung (Criminality in the context of immigration)” where it treats the criminality of the immigrants. These represented about 2 percent of the German population by the end of 2017 (Lutz, Martin; Leubecher, Marcel: Zuwanderer in einigen Kriminalitätsfeldern besonders auffällig, Welt, 28.04.2018 (8)), and were suspected of committing 8,5% of crimes (violations of Germany's alien law are not included) in that year. Moreover, they were highly overrepresented for some types of crime: Thus, they account for 14,3% of all suspects in crimes against life, 12,2% of sexual offences, 9,7% of body injuries and 11,4% of thefts. (Bundeskriminalamt: Kriminalität im Kontext von Zuwanderung – Bundeslagebild 2017, Wiesbaden 2018 (9)). In September 2019 another report of the BKA about organized crime stated that Arabic and Turk family clans are more often in the focus of the police and the judiciary than the mafia. Above all, because of their involvement in raids, burglaries and murders (Bundeskriminalamt: Organisierte Kriminalität. Bundeslagebild 2018, Wiesbaden, August 2019 (51)).

2. The rise of the far-right in the biggest EU-countries

2.1 Italy and the Lega

The Lega – Salvini Premier, as it is called officially, is a party that advocated in the past the independence of northern Italy and was called Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania (Northern League for the Independence of Padania). In the 2018 program of the party it doesn’t strive anymore for an independent north but still advocates regionalism and autonomy: “E’ il momento di ripensare al regionalismo, che fino ad ora è stato attuato in base ad una logica di uniformità che non consente la crescita delle realtà territoriali che aspirano ad avere una maggiore autonomia dallo Stato centrale. (It is time to rethink regionalism, which until now has been implemented on the basis of a logic of uniformity that does not allow the growth of territorial realities that aspire to have greater autonomy from the central State.)” (Lega – Salvini Premier: Elezioni 2018. Programma di governo, p. 20 (11)).

Another core idea of the Lega is its rejection of immigration from Africa: “Nessuno deve sentirsi costretto a lasciare il proprio Paese e le proprie radici per ragioni economiche. Possiamo davvero aiutare le aree del pianeta più svantaggiate sostenendo progetti in loco, non certo accogliendo tutti. L’Africa in Italia non ci sta! (No one should feel compelled to leave his country and his roots for economic reasons. We can really help the most disadvantaged areas of the planet by supporting projects there, certainly not by welcoming everyone. Africa is not in Italy!)” (Lega – Salvini Premier: Elezioni 2018. Programma di governo, p. 6).

As for Europe, the Lega opposes what it calls the "European superstate": "Sì all’Europa dei popoli, della pace e della libertà. No all’Europa dei burocrati e degli speculatori. (Yes to the Europe of peoples, of peace and freedom. No to the Europe of bureaucrats and speculators.)" (Lega – Salvini Premier: Elezioni 2018. Programma di governo, p. 9). Especially under the leadership of Matteo Salvini the party has already proposed the abandonment of the Euro by Italy (Politi, James: Brexit inspires Salvini dream of Italy ditching the euro, financial times, 13.10.2016 (12)).

That the rise of this party is, above all, due to the migration crisis of 2015, can be seen in its election results: In the 2013 elections to the Italian Parliament it won 4,1% (Ministero dell’Interno: Elezioni 2013, politiche e regionali del 24 e 25 Febbraio, 26.02.2013 (13)), and in those to the European Parliament in 2014 it won 6,2%. But in the 2018 elections to the Italian Parliament these results improved to 17,4% (Ufficio elettorale centrale nazionale: Elezione della Camera dei Deputati di domenica 4 marzo 2018, 20.03.2018 (14)), and in the 2019 elections to the European Parliament the Lega won even more with 34,3% (European Parliament: 2019 European election results, see note 10), becoming thus the strongest party in Italy. That the Lega lost its participation in government in August 2019 (Governo, Conte accetta con riserva l'incarico da Mattarella: "Tutti paghino le tasse ma meno", la Repubblica, 29.08.2019 (21)) does not mean that its voters simply disappear. And a new government opening the borders for all migrants surely will not reduce this support for the far-right. Moreover, Italy is not the country where governments stay in power forever.

Situated at the European southern border where most migrants arrive, this impact on the election results is understandable. Thus, in 2015 arrived 153,842 immigrants, in 2016 additional 181,436, in 2017 119,369. In 2018, after the election that brought the Lega into the government, Italy closed the border for migrant ships (“Italy to block naval vessels carrying migrants from docking: Interior Minister Matteo Salvini”, dw, 09.07.2018 (15)) and the numbers of arrivals decreased to 23,370. On 19th August 2019 the UNHCR noted 4,393 sea arrivals (UNHCR: Mediterranean situation – Italy (16)).

As far as the Lega’s connections with Russia are concerned, Salvini made several trips to Russia to meet officials of United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin, and in March 2017 it signed a cooperation deal with this party (Max Seddon, James Politi: Putin’s party signs deal with Italy’s far-right Lega Nord, Financial Times, 06.03.2017 (43)). In August 2019 an investigation by BuzzFeed News, Bellingcat, and the Insider revealed that Gianluca Savoini, a close and longtime Salvini aide, traveled to Russia at least 14 times in 2018. (Alberto Nardelli, Christo Grozev, Roman Dobrokhotov, Tanya Kozyreva: Flight Records Show Salvini's Aide Made A Lot Of Mysterious Trips To Moscow Around The Time Of The Secret Oil Deal Meeting, BuzzFeed, 08.08.2019 (17)). Furthermore, according to BuzzFeed, Savoini and two other Italians as well as three Russians prepared a secret oil deal in October 2018 with the aim to covertly channel about 65 million dollars to sustain Lega’s European election campaign. On the other side, Lega leader Salvini has repeatedly called for EU sanctions against Russia to be dropped, has described the annexation of Crimea as legitimate and has criticized NATO. (Nardelli, Alberto: Revealed: The Explosive Secret Recording That Shows How Russia Tried To Funnel Millions To The “European Trump”, BuzzFeed, 10.07.2019 (18)).

2.2 France and the Rassemblement National

As for the French far-right Rassemblement National, the first subject its leader Marine Le Pen treats in her “144 Engagements présidentiels” is France’s position in the EU, French independence and sovereignty. Headed by the title “Rendre à la France sa souveraineté nationale. Vers une Europe des nations indépendantes, au service des peuples“ she wrote „Retrouver notre liberté et la maîtrise de notre destin en restituant au peuple français sa souveraineté (monétaire, législative, territoriale, économique). Pour cela, une négociation sera engagée avec nos partenaires européens suivie d’un référendum sur notre appartenance à l’Union européenne. L’objectif est de parvenir à un projet européen respectueux de l’indépendance de la France, des souverainetés nationales et qui serve les intérêts des peuples.” (Le Pen, Marine: 144 Engagements présidentiels - Marine 2017, p.3 (19)).

Then she continued with the subject law and order, and after that follows the topic of the French borders and the stop of uncontrolled immigration: “retrouver des frontiers qui protègent et en finir avec l’immigration incontrôlée”. She advocated the withdrawal of France from the integrated military command of NATO and the built-up of capabilities for an autonomous French defence. Furthermore, she wanted to make France a great power in the world.

In contrast to the Italian far-right, the Front National/ Rassemblement National (since June 2018) in France, where traditionally live many people with  roots in the Maghreb states, rose already before the 2015 migration crisis: According to the official results published by the Ministère de l’Intérieur the rise began after the takeover of the party chairmanship by Marine Le Pen from her father in 2011 and the positioning of the party more towards the center, although she maintained the core ideas regarding the EU, immigrants as well as law and order. Thus, in the presidential, parliamentarian and European elections 2007 and 2009 the Front National gained between 4,29% and 10,44%. In 2012 the daughter won 17,90% in the presidential elections, and two years later the “Listes Front National” won 24,86% in the European elections, becoming thus the strongest French party. In 2017 Marine Le Pen won 21,30% in the presidential elections and entered the second round of the elections. In the European elections of 2019, the list “Prenéz le Pouvoir” supported by Le Pen became the strongest French list gaining 23,34%, while that supported by La République en Marche gained 22,42%. (Ministère de l’Interieur: Elections – Les résultats (20)).

As for the immigration, France is not so much affected by Merkel’s welcome message, as most immigrants who traditionally go to France come from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, something that didn’t change after the 2015 migration crisis. According to the national French institute of statistics, the INSEE, the total number of immigrants from 2010 to 2018 has risen continually from 5,514 million in 2010 to 6,491 million in 2018. Also, if one only has a look at the numbers of Africans arriving in France – as far-right parties don’t mainly rise because of the arrival of Europeans – the trend is the same: A continual rise from 2,362 million immigrants in 2010 to 2,992 million in 2018. The only thing that stands out is that the immigration from the rest of African countries has risen faster than that from the three Maghreb states. But this is a trend that already existed before 2015. While the percentage of the Europeans among the immigrants coming to France has fallen a bit in 2018 to 33,5%, the one of the Africans continues rising, to meanwhile 46,1%. (Insee: Répartition des immigrés par groupe de pays de naissance en 2018 : effectifs - Données annuelles de 2010 à 2018, 25.06.2019 (22)).

As the migration from the Maghreb to France exists for a long time, the problems that emerged with this migration can also be seen for a long time. One term that is emblematic for these problems is thus well-known in probably all French classes: Seine-Saint-Denis, the infamous north-eastern suburb of Paris where a high proportion of immigrants live. Thus, a parliamentary report of 2018 already warned of the deterioration of social, economic and security conditions in this suburb, where 28% of the population lives below the poverty line. The report also urged the government to make plans to combat the poverty, the high unemployment, the emergence of a parallel economy in some areas, and the trafficking of people and drugs which have already taken over some districts. (Assemblée Nationale: Rapport d’information sur l’évaluation de l’action de l’État dans l’exercice de ses missions régaliennes en Seine-Saint-Denis, 31.05.2018 (25)).

Like the Italian Lega also the French Front National had contacts to Russia. When Le Pen, in 2014, needed money and had problems to get a credit from traditional French banks, party officials turned to Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a member of the European Parliament elected as part of Le Pen’s party bloc, who should help to get money from a non-French bank. Schaffhauser called a contact in Russia, Alexander Babakov, a Russian businessman, member of parliament and the Kremlin’s special envoy for Russian organizations abroad. Babakov proposed a loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank. Sometime in September 2014, the National Front’s treasurer, Wallerand de Saint Just, went to Moscow, met Roman Popov, the chairman of First Czech-Russian Bank, and signed a contract that lent the Front National 9,4 million euros. (Sonne, Paul: A Russian bank gave Marine Le Pen’s party a loan. Then weird things began happening, The Washington Post, 27.12.2018 (23)). The French online investigative journal Mediapart suspected even that there was a connection between the Front National's support for the annexation of Crimea and the payment in subsequent months of 11 million euros in Russian bank loans to its president Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie for party funding:

“On March 17th, 2014, Marine Le Pen officially gave her support to the results of the deeply controversial Crimean referendum backing annexation, while her official advisor on international affairs visited the region as an “observer”. In the hacked texts the Russians show their delight at these developments and discuss how to “thank the French” in “one manner or another”. Over the following months Marine Le Pen's FN and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen's micro party received loans from Russian banks totalling 11 million euros for party funding.” (Agathe Duparc, Karl Laske, Marine Turchi: Crimea, Russian loans and the Le Pens: the Kremlin's intriguing SMS messages, Mediapart 04.04.2015 (24)).

2.3 Germany and the Alternative für Deutschland

Also the German far-right AfD is against the European integration and advocates a loose economic cooperation of sovereign states. If it is not possible to achieve this through reforms within the EU, Germany should leave the Union: „Wir sind dagegen, die EU in einen zentralistischen Bundesstaat umzuwandeln. Stattdessen treten wir dafür ein, die EU zurückzuführen zu einer Wirtschafts- und Interessengemeinschaft souveräner, lose verbundener Einzelstaaten in ihrem ursprünglichen Sinne. […] Sollten sich unsere grundlegenden Reformansätze im bestehenden System der EU nicht verwirklichen lassen, streben wir einen Austritt Deutschlands oder eine demokratische Auflösung der Europäischen Union und die Neugründung einer Europäischen Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft an.“ (Alternative für Deutschland: Programm für Deutschland. Das Grundsatzprogramm der Alternative für Deutschland, Stuttgart 30.04./01.05.2016, p. 30f. (26)). Furthermore, the AfD rejects a European army and considers the armed forces as an important factor of German sovereignty: „Gemeinsame europäische Streitkräfte lehnt die AfD ab und hält an einer umfassend befähigten Bundeswehr als Eckpfeiler deutscher Souveränität fest.“ (p. 61)

Like the other far-right parties, also the AfD advocates law and order demanding „einen „sicherheitspolitischen Befreiungsschlag“, um den Schutz der Bürger an erste Stelle zu setzen.“ (p. 47)

But the main topic of the party is the immigration from Africa and the Near and Middle East. It speaks of a “migration of the peoples of historic dimensions” to the wealthy European states (p. 116). Massive asylum abuse leads to “a fast and unstoppable colonization of Europe, above all of Germany, by people from other cultures and parts of the world”. Thus, arises “the danger of social and religious unrest as well as the insidious termination of the European cultures”, what is something that the AfD firmly rejects (p. 117). Nevertheless, for the labour market it welcomes the immigration of qualified people who are ready to integrate into the society (p. 123).

As for its election results, the newly founded AfD won in the 2013 parliamentary election 4,7%. In the European elections of 2014, it won 7,1%. In the parliamentary elections of 2017, its results rose to 12,6% and in the European elections of 2019, to 11,0% (Der Bundeswahlleiter: Bundestagswahl 2013, 2017, Europawahl 2014, 2019 (27)). These are high percentages for a German far-right party – as normally such parties are not represented in the Bundestag as they remain below 5% - and a clear consequence of the migration crisis of 2015. On 01.09.2019 the AfD gained 27,5% (Statistisches Landesamt des Freistaates Sachsen: Landtagswahl 2019, Wahlergebnisse (28)) and 23,5% (Der Landeswahlleiter: Landtagswahl im Land Brandenburg am 01.09.2019 (29)) in two federal states in the east of Germany, both times it became the second party. But as the AfD is much weaker in the western part of Germany, these results cannot be generalized for the whole country.

According to the official statistics of the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF) the number of asylum seekers in Germany exploded in 2015 and 2016: Thus, in 2008 there was a minimum of 28.018 applications for asylum. This number grew slowly in the following years, up to 476.649 in 2015 (EU: 1.323.485), as the migration crisis began, and reached a maximum of 745.545 (EU: 1.261.335) in the following year. Since then the numbers decline again (because of European countermeasures like a deal with Turkey and an EU naval mission near Libya). In 2018, the BAMF registered 185.853 applications (EU: 646.040). Most of these asylum seekers of the years since the migration crisis have come from Syria, Iraq and Iran. But there are also high numbers of Afghans, Eritreans and Nigerians. As the official numbers show, Germany is hit most by the migration crisis, followed by Italy, France and Greece. (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge: Das Bundesamt in Zahlen 2018 - Asyl, Migration und Integration, Nürnberg, August 2019 (30)).

And also the German AfD seems to be used as a fifth column of the Russians. Thus, the two chairmen of the party, Alexander Gauland and Jörg Meuthen, reject the sanctions against Russia as economically bad for Germany, advocate instead cooperation, Russia’s accession to the G7 and criticize the deployment of NATO troops in eastern Europe. So, for example, Meuthen said in December 2017 „Die Russland-Sanktionen sind politisch wirkungslos und wirtschaftlich ein Eigentor für Deutschland. Sie gehören daher schnellstmöglich beendet.“ (Meuthen, Jörg: Russland-Sanktionen sind wirtschaftliches Eigentor für Deutschland, Berlin, 14.12.2017 (44)). In August 2019 Gauland commented on the occasion of the G7 meating in Biarritz: „Die wichtigsten Industrienationen sollten Russland nicht länger aus ihrem Dialog ausschließen. Es ist auch im Interesse Deutschlands, gute wirtschaftliche und politische Beziehungen zu Russland zu pflegen. […] Der Bann aus der G7-Runde hat nichts bewirkt: Russland hat und wird deswegen die Krim nicht zurückgeben.“ (Gauland, Alexander: Russland wieder in den Kreis der wichtigsten Industrienationen aufnehmen, Berlin, 22.08.2019 (45)). In January 2017 he criticized NATO: „Das neuerliche Nato-Manöver ‚Atlantic Resolve‘ ist eine wirkungslose Geldverschwendung, die am Ende niemanden beeindrucken wird. Ich halte generell ziemlich wenig davon zu versuchen, Putin durch Säbelrasseln abzuschrecken.“ (Gauland, Alexander: Drohungen und Sanktionen gegen Russland schaden nur uns selber, Berlin, 06.01.2017 (46)).

In April 2019 appeared two documents that showed the Russian interest in using an AfD politician for its interests: The first of them is a document of April 2017 that was obtained by the Dossier Centre and leaked to the German magazine Der Spiegel, the German TV channel ZDF, the British channel BBC and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. It was a strategy paper about influencing the public opinion and decision-makers in the EU and was sent to a senior official in President Putin's administration, Sergei Sokolov. This paper also mentions the then candidate for the election to the Bundestag, Markus Frohnmaier, a Russia-friendly AfD politician. According to the document this politician needed “support in the election campaign”. As result that was strived for the paper states: “We will have our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” Frohnmaier himself said that he knew nothing about the document (Melanie Amann, Stephan Heffner, Martin Knobbe, Ann-Katrin Müller, Jan Puhl, Marcel Rosenbach, Alexander Sarovic, Jörg Schmitt, Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt, Anika Zeller: Moskaus deutsche Marionetten. Wie Putin die AfD für seine Zwecke benutzt, Spiegel Online, 05.04.2019 (31); Joachim Bartz, Johannes Hano, Ulrich Stoll: Der Fall Frohnmaier. Wie russische Strategen einen AfD-Politiker lenken wollten, ZDF, 09.04.2019 (32)). The second document, also of April 2017, was obtained by the BBC and entitled: "Frohnmaier election campaign/action plan (draft)". It seeks to mobilize “some support” for his campaign: "Besides material support we would need media support as well […] any type of interviews, reports and opportunities to appear in the Russian media is helpful for us." In return, Frohnmaier would focus on "[g]ood relations with the Russian Federation: Sanctions, EU interference in Russian domestic politics." (Gatehouse, Gabriel: German far-right MP 'could be absolutely controlled by Russia', BBC Newsnight, 05.04.2019 (33)).

2.4 Britain and the Brexit

Also in the case of Britain and the Brexit-referendum the mass immigration plays an important role. Thus, Lord Ashcroft, who surveyed on referendum day more than 12.000 people after voting, found that “[n]early half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”. One third (33%) said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” Just over one in eight (13%) said remaining would mean having no choice “about how the EU expanded its membership or its powers in the years ahead.” Only just over one in twenty (6%) said their main reason was that “when it comes to trade and the economy, the UK would benefit more from being outside the EU than from being part of it.”” (Lord Ashcroft: How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why, Lord Ashcroft Polls, 24.06.2016 (35)).

Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo found in their investigations of the role of immigration in the 2016 vote for Brexit: “Our evidence confirms that strong public concerns over immigration, and its perceived effects on the country and on communities, were central to explaining the 2016 vote for Brexit. Public support for leaving the EU was significantly stronger in local communities that had experienced higher rates of ethnic change in the period preceding the vote, underscoring how relatively sudden demographic shifts can trigger significant political reactions among voters. Most of those who voted for Brexit were aware of these local changes and felt negatively about how historically unprecedented levels of immigration were impacting on the national economy, culture and the welfare state. Furthermore, we demonstrate how citizens who became more cognisant of rising levels of immigration were more likely to switch their vote from Remain to Leave, further underlining the centrality of this issue to the vote. When seen as a whole, these findings suggest that the decision taken by the Leave campaigns to focus heavily on the immigration issue, particularly during the latter part of the referendum campaign, helped to drive public support for leaving the EU […]”. (Goodwin, Matthew; Milazzo, Caitlin: Taking Back Control? Investigating the Role of Immigration in the 2016 Vote for Brexit, 2017, p. 14/19 (34)). Referring to the role of the 2015 migration crisis they wrote: “Immigration was a highly salient issue throughout the referendum. From 2004, following the accession of Central and East European states, British voters became increasingly concerned about the economic and cultural effects of immigration […]. By the time of the 2016 referendum immigration was ranked by citizens as the most important issue in the country – a concern that was likely sharpened by the continuation of historically unprecedented levels of net migration and the arrival of a pan-European refugee crisis in 2015.” (p. 2/19)

These investigations were confirmed by the Economist/Ipsos MORI Issues Index of June 2016 that found that “[t]he proportion who see the EU as an important issue is now at 32% - however both the NHS (37%) and immigration (48%) remain bigger issues overall. Notably, concern with immigration has risen by ten percentage points since the May Index, when concern stood at 38%.” (Ipsos MORI: Concern about immigration rises as EU vote approaches, 23.06.2016 (36)).

As for the parties that benefit from this trend, these were, first, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP), and then, after its foundation in 2019, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. The first, the UKIP, declared in its 2018 Interim Manifesto that the “UKIP stands for a complete and total withdrawal from the European Union.” (UK Independence Party: Interim Manifesto. Policies for the People, September 2018, p. 2 (37)). It emphasizes above all that it doesn’t want to pay money to the EU, doesn’t accept EU laws and jurisdiction and that it wants to control the British borders. Besides, it mentions that it wants Britain to withdraw “from PESCO, the EU’s ‘Defence Union’, or nascent Army.” (p. 2). As for the subject of immigration, the UKIP states “[m]ass uncontrolled immigration has been extremely damaging to Britain” (p. 4) because imported cheap labour “depresses the wages and living standards of those at the bottom end of the economic scale, and drives up property prices and rental costs”. Consequently, “the age of uncontrolled mass-immigration must come to an end“ (p. 4). It adds some pages later “we restrict any limited migration from Islamic countries to those people we can be sure, as far as possible, do not follow a literalist and extremist interpretation of Islam.” (p. 14). As for the Brexit Party, it declares on its website that “[t]he Brexit Party was launched in April 2019 to ensure that the UK leaves the EU. […] Brexit has been betrayed by the government and MPs. We stand for a clean-break Brexit, by the new deadline of 31st October, that will enable us to take control of our laws, borders and money.” (Brexit Party: Why the Brexit Party?, 2019 (38)).

As for the election results, the UKIP has been quite irrelevant in the national elections, except in 2015, the year of the refugee crisis, when it won 12,6% (“UK 2015 general election results in full”, The Guardian, 07.05.2015 (39)). But in the European elections it was much stronger, until the foundation of the Brexit Party in 2019. It began its rise in the 2004 elections, the year of the accession of Central and East European states: From 6,65% in 1999 (“Euro elections 99 – Results”, BBC, 1999 (40)) to 16,1% in 2004 (European Election: United Kingdom Result, BBC, 14.06.2004 (41)). Then it continued its rise in the European Parliament in 2009 and 2014 with 16,09% and 26,77%, respectively, being the first party in 2014. In 2019 it won only 3,21% of the votes as the voters now preferred the newly founded Brexit Party that gained 30,74% of the votes and became the strongest national party (European Parliament: 2009, 2014, 2019 European election results (42)).

The links to Russia go back to prior to the Brexit referendum in 2016 – and beyond Nigel Farage’s expression of admiration for Vladimir Putin as a statesman in an interview with Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine in 2014, his understanding for the Russian invasion of Ukraine and several meetings with the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenk (Holehouse, Matthew: Brilliant Putin is the leader I most admire, says Nigel Farage, The Telegraph, 31.03.2014 (49)).

The main figure of these links is a close associate of Farage, Arron Banks: giving 12 million British pounds of services to the Leave campaign he was the biggest donor to this campaign, even the biggest donor in UK history. According to “The Observer”, that saw documents, Arron Banks had multiple meetings with Russian embassy officials in the run-up to the Brexit referendum: “Multiple meetings between the leaders of Leave.EU and high-ranking Russian officials, from November 2015 to 2017. Two meetings in the week Leave.EU launched its official campaign. An introduction to a Russian businessman, by the Russian ambassador, the day after Leave.EU launched its campaign, who reportedly offered Banks a multibillion dollar opportunity to buy Russian goldmines. A trip to Moscow in February 2016 to meet key partners and financiers behind a gold project, including a Russian bank. Continued extensive contact in the run-up to the US election when Banks, his business partner and Leave.EU spokesman Andy Wigmore, and Nigel Farage campaigned in the US to support Donald Trump’s candidacy.” (Carole Cadwalladr, Peter Jukes: Arron Banks ‘met Russian officials multiple times before Brexit vote’, The Observer, 09.06.2018 (47)). The Sunday Times revealed that Arron Banks was not only offered “a business deal involving six Russian goldmines”, but that “he also had undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador to Britain […] and paid a previously unknown visit to Moscow at the height of the campaign.” (Richard Kerbaj, Caroline Wheeler, Tim Shipman, Tom Harper: Revealed: Brexit backer Arron Banks’s golden Kremlin connection, The Sunday Times, 10.06.2018 (48)).

3. Conclusions

Although there are other strong far-right parties, like the FPÖ in Austria or the Fidesz in Hungary that cultivate contacts to Russia (Adrienne Klasa, Valerie Hopkins, Guy Chazan, Henry Foy, Miles Johnson: Russia’s long arm reaches to the right in Europe, Financial Times, 23.05.2019 (50)), the four mentioned above are insofar important as they affect the most important EU states: France, Germany, UK and Italy. There the mass migration has prepared the ground for the rise of these parties that wish to destroy the European unity from within. While the UK indeed leaves the Union, in Italy new elections in August 2019 could have made the Lega the strongest party, and in France the FN/RN has won about a fourth of the votes since 2014. All this is a cause for rejoicing of Russian President Putin who is interested in weakening the Europeans by dividing them. And the far-right parties seem all to be ready to act as his fifth columns. Thus, the way to weaken them could be a reasonable dealing with the mass migration. Once the migration problem is overcome, the results for the far-right parties will decrease again. But as the example of the Brexit shows the Europeans should not wait too long with a solution.


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