Recent developments in Europe, where the economic crisis continues to affect the political and social life, are showing a worrying rise of the “traditional” extreme – both right and left – parties, as well as of the newer “anti-system” or  “fringe” movements that oppose the existing institutions (especially the global and European ones), as well as the ruling establishment.There is no universally accepted definition of the “anti-system” or “fringe” party/group, but they have some similarities: they attract, at least at the beginning, only minor segments of the electorate, they are small in terms of membership, their leadership does not usually belong to the established elite groups of their respective political system, and their party ideology does either violate the political consensus or is simply considered irrelevant by most voters.

In time, the “fringe” parties may enter the political mainstream, and be electorally relevant and accepted by the more established parties and the majority of the citizenry. Other may remain outside the political mainstream although they attract relatively large segments of the electorate.

Many “fringe” parties are based on religion (minor Christian parties and non-Christian, mostly Islamic, spiritual and New Age parties), on region/ethnic (that may be included in the mainstream, even privileged, but that may also have separatist goals), or on other specific interests (social, anti-corporative etc.)

“Traditional” extremism

The recent successes of the extreme-right parties in France and the Netherlands (mostly because of their anti-immigration position)[1] are being matched in more and more countries, both in the West as in Eastern Europe.

a) One of the most significant examples comes from Serbia, where the 20 May 2012 presidential elections were won by Tomislav Nikolic, a former ultranationalist ally of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

During the 1990s Balkan wars, Nikolic was the deputy leader of the extremist Serbian Radical Party, which was even more hard-line than Milosevic, as well as a loyal disciple of Vojislav Seselj, a right-wing politician whose trial is under way at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

In 2008, Nikolic split from the Radicals to form his own Serbian Progressive Party. He remained staunchly pro-Russian (he has in the past even envisaged Serbia as a Russian province), but also said he supported Serbia’s membership in the European Union, a declarative change that was supposed (and succeeded) to attract more voters. But the main “success factor” for Nikolic was the fact that he portrayed himself as a father figure with whom ordinary Serbs could identify, he criticized alleged corruption among elites and claimed he was a victim of a media lynching.

b) Besides the surprising performance of the “Golden Dawn” neo-Nazi movement, the electoral process in Greece is also marked by the diminishing share of the mainstream parties in face of the extreme right and left movements, the “Independent Greeks” led by right-wing economist Panos Kammenos and the “Democratic Left”, led by left-wing lawyer Fotis Kouvelis. The Independent Greeks and Democratic Left are assessed to be the strongest of several upstart parties and protest movements that are expected to win seats in Parliament and make life hard for the next government, together with the Soviet-style Communist Party and the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn”.

Although ideologically opposed, both extremist parties have a similar campaign against the political establishment that has ruled Greece since the nation’s military junta fell in 1974. And both sustain that Greece’s austerity deal with the EU and the International Monetary Fund must be renegotiated to secure gentler terms for Greeks.

c) In the United Kingdom, analysts see the growing presence of the “English Defense League” (EDL), a group that emerged in March 2009, in Luton, in the aftermath of an Islamist counter-demonstration, and currently has thousands of supporters across the country. The EDL evolved from the football casual subculture, with local football supporters, using social networking websites and collaborating with other football casual groups, including those associated with hooliganism. What began as a loose alliance of people around various social networking websites turned into an organization with national, regional and local structures.

The EDL is run by 15 key people, who co-ordinate activists via email and social networking sites, such as Facebook. It uses social media in a different way than other far-right organizations. It claims to have dozens of “divisions” around the country. Over the past few months the EDL has begun to organize meetings and events on a regional basis. National mobilizations are coordinated centrally.

With the diminishing appeal of the far-right British National Party (BNP), the EDL is considered to be the largest right-wing movement in the UK, with over 79000 supporters on Facebook and the ability to bring anywhere from 100 to 3000 people out onto the streets. Tommy Robinson, an EDL co-founder, has reportedly considered forming a political party. In November 2011, the EDL formed an alliance with an offshoot of BNP, known as the British Freedom Party, under which EDL members would be invited to join and stand as candidates in elections.

“Non-traditional” movements on the road to become political actors

The so-called traditional extreme groups are joined, and in many case challenged, by new “grass-root” movements, with a different vision of the political process and a different discourse that attracts more and more sympathizers as they tend to become significant political actors.

a) Municipal elections in Italy on 6-7 May 2012 saw a surprising success of the “anti-politics” “5 Stars Movement” (Movimento Cinque Stelle – M5S) led by former actor Beppe Grillo, that managed to win four mandates of mayor and had the largest ever showing at the polls, being estimated to have about 14 percent of the electorate, a stunning figure compared with the fact that the three largest political parties combined won just 37 per cent of the vote.

Movimento 5 Stelle is a grass-roots political movement inspired by the so-called “V-Day”, a great open-air party organized by Grillo in 2007: a giant crowd gathered in Bologna to protest against politicians (the so called “caste” of privileged governors and administrators) and the press (which is commonly seen as not free and controlled).

M5S has been criticized because of its “anti-political” approach, but in a few years it gained many activists, followers and sympathizers. M5S’ agenda focuses on issues which appear to be cross-ideological: ecology and de-growth, digital freedom, direct democracy, and transparency. Actually, M5S activists proudly claim that they’re favorable to “ideas” to be put into practice, and against any “ideology”.  Internet is the main medium of their activism, and they use the social networks to organize, discuss and take decisions.

M5S has also attracted many criticisms. In the first place, it has to be noted that Grillo’s ideas on many issues – immigration and economy, for example – are pretty ambiguous. Many of his followers are disappointed leftists tired of traditional parties, and they share progressive views on such topics; but others appear to be more conservative, sometimes even turning to xenophobic and crypto-fascist ideas.

b) In Germany, the Piratenpartei (the Pirate Party), a movement launched in 2006 succeeded, since 2011, to attain a high enough vote share to enter four German state parliaments, (Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein). It has won seats in state parliaments in four successive elections, and a recent poll puts them at 11% of Germany’s national vote.

“Pirate Parties” are based on the model of the Swedish Piratpartiet, founded in 2006 and represented both in the national and in the European Parliament. They generally support civil rights, direct democracy and participation, reform of copyright and patent law, free sharing of knowledge (Open Content), data privacy, transparency, freedom of information, free education, universal healthcare and a clear separation between church and state. They advocate network neutrality and universal, unrestricted access to the Internet as indispensable conditions to some of this. Pirate Parties International (PPI) is the umbrella organization of the national Pirate Parties. Since 2006 the organization exists as a loose union of the national parties. Since October 2009, PPI has the status of a non-governmental organization based in Belgium. The organization was officially founded at a conference from 16 to 18 April 2010 in Brussels, when the organization’s statutes were adopted by the 22 national pirate parties represented at the event.

Local analysts consider that the Pirates’ success originates in Germany’s democratic malaise, as the traditional parties like the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats are losing members and voter turnout is falling.

The Pirates have built their success on little more than a vague platform of greater openness in government, using technology. Though they have failed to offer their own solutions to the Continent’s economic crisis, the Pirates have succeeded in attracting protest voters, an angry share of the electorate that is expanding even in Germany, though for reasons opposite those of many other parts of Europe.

As in the case of Italy’s M5S, the Pirates rally voters around the idea of increased transparency and direct voter participation through technology and the Internet. As the birthplace and living space of a communication society, the Internet is seen to offer to everybody some basic freedoms: freedom through equal rights, freedom through the expression of opinion, freedom through open access to education and knowledge, but also freedom through the erosion of hierarchy and authority.

Issues are to be developed, debated and amended directly by party members through Liquid Feedback, an open source platform developed in Berlin. Significantly, in Germany the Pirates’ rivals are starting to copy their methods. A group close to the Social Democrats recently rolled out D64, an internet policy platform, to “prepare Germany for digital democracy”, and Christian Democrats followed suit with CNetz.

c) Considered to have begun in the United Stated in 2011, the “Occupy” movements are becoming more active in Europe, as the economic crisis is moving more people in the category of the so-called “99 percent”[2].

According to various analysts, the “Occupy” movements have their origins in the Spanish “Indignado” movement (camps in Madrid, May 2011, inspired by the “Arab spring” upheavals), though it is much more commonly said to have begun in New York during September 2011 with “Occupy Wall Street”.  Another inspiration for the movement was the “Democracy Village” set up in 2010, outside the British Parliament, that received additional attention when the internet hacker group “Anonymous” encouraged its followers to take part in the protests, calling protesters to “flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and Occupy Wall Street”. Other researchers found also similarities between the “occupiers” ideology and the Mexican “Zapatista” movement of the 1990’s and even the anarchist movements of the late 19th century.

The Occupy movement became an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer. Different local groups have different goals, but among the prime concerns is the claim that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy and is unstable.

As a general modus operandi, “Occupy” sets up a camp – including tents and outdoor kitchens – in a park or other public space, often near the city or town’s financial district, to establish a semi-permanent protest area. Activists have used web technologies and social media like IRC, Facebook, Twitter and Meetup to coordinate events. Indymedia helped with communications, saying there have been conference calls on Skype with participants from up to 80 locations, and Internet providers offered cost-free memberships for groups to host websites, emails, and email lists securely.

Much of the movement’s democratic process occurs in “working groups”, where any protestor is able to have their say. Important decisions are often made at “General Assemblies”, which can themselves be informed by the findings of multiple working groups. Decisions are made by consensus (model of direct democracy). Hand signals are being used to increase participation, a system that can be traced to participatory democracy in ancient Athens and to the spokes-councils of the 1999 anti-globalization movement.

In late November 2011, the London contingent of the “Occupy” movement released their first statement on corporations, where they called for measures to end tax evasion by wealthy firms. The reason for the delay in articulating a clear demand was given as the time it takes to reach a consensus with the sometimes slow processes of participatory democracy. Efforts are underway to reach consensus with other “Occupy” groups around the world for a global statement. The movement is seen as an example of the reinvention of politics, revolution, and utopia in the twenty-first century.

The “Occupy” movement is seen as already having a global impact, altering the terms of the political debate, but until now with limited, mostly local, success. It has been suggested that “Occupy” influenced the US President’s January 2012 State of the Union address, although it was not mentioned by name. Recently, the “Occupy” movement claimed to have played a played a central role in organizing the anti-NATO demonstrations at the Alliance’s summit in Chicago.

“Anti-system” success factors

As originally defined by Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori[3], an “anti-system” party “would change, if it could, not the government, but the system of government”. Such an opposition to the system might be expressed from within through “infiltration” of the system, or from without, through “obstruction”. The current rising trend of the “anti-system” movements suggests that their success is illustrated by their capacity to penetrate the system and secure power, in the same way as traditional parties did. Such a capability increases since the “anti-system” groups speculate the political and social discontent, as well as the growing feeling of a deepening gap between the population and the European governing (supra-national) institutions and parties.

a) Political discontent

The new extremist parties and the non-traditional movements and groups that emerged on the European political scene, although being so diversified (with social, ethnic, religious or other backgrounds) share a common feature that constitutes their “success factor”. They challenge the existing economic and social systems that they consider as inequitable and infringing the same individual rights and freedoms that were originally promised to the people. Thus, they may speculate – with success – on the political discontent, already visible in lower levels of turnout and higher levels of public discontent with the democratic political system.

The “anti-system” groups politicize this discontent and combine ethnic, social and religious issues with anti-establishment critique and criticism of the existing institutions of representative democracy, so that an increasing number of citizens seem to oscillate between the “exit-option” of political abstention and the “voice-option” of support for anti-system and anti-establishment parties. As a result, political participation becomes less frequent and structural, and when it occurs it takes the form of protest.

Such movements mobilize citizens on their increasing negative evaluations of the political system, by questioning both the integrity and competence of the established elites and the responsiveness and effectiveness of the political system as a whole. Their leaders’ charisma and eloquence also adds to the message, since he/she is portrayed as the defendant of the “demos” and the “ethnos”, a task that the system can no longer fulfill.

Most of the “anti-system” ideologies contain some, if not all the same core elements: (a) the notion of a people whose will – no longer represented by the establishment – can be expressed by the actions of one political leader; (b) an aversion against political intermediaries such as political parties and traditional elites and (c) less institutional and bureaucratic procedures that stand in the way of the direct expression of the people’s will. They emphasize the malfunctioning of representative democracy and cast doubt on the incumbent elite’s ability to solve the people’s problems. They undermine system-trust not only by casting doubt on the integrity and competence of the established elites, but also by criticizing the systems of checks and balances that are portrayed as time-consuming and inefficient ways of political decision-making.

b) Challenging the establishment and the “party families”

Another “success factor” for these new political actors is the fact that most of them do not challenge democracy, the democratic system per se, or the party as a political actor. They target the elites that allegedly betrayed the interests of the people (demos) and portray their leaders as incarnating the solutions for a democracy which is closer to the society. Their discourse is centered on a so-called “regenerated democracy”, purified of the current political class’s corruption.

That makes them “anti-establishment” rather than “anti-system” movements, with a Manichaean approach (“against” the elites, “for” the people, “truly democratic”, “competent” not “dilettante”, “moral” and not “perverted” etc.) that allows them to adopt an aggressive and crude attitude against their competitors, seen as enemies that must be defeated.

The “anti-system” groups are seen by more and more people as an alternative to the traditional parties (some of them more than a century old) that are grouped in the so-called “families” in the European Parliament.

The European Parliament (EP) is the only supranational institution whose members are directly elected by direct universal suffrage. The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected to five-year terms. MEPs are grouped by political affinity and not by nationality and they change with each new parliament. The main “party families” of the European Parliament are the European People’s Party (EPP), the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the Alliance of Liberal Democrats (ALDE).

The European People’s Party (EPP), founded in 1953, is the largest group in the European Parliament and includes traditional right and center-right parties (Popular, Christian-Democrats, Conservatives). EPP parties are currently in control of more countries and governments than the other two European political parties. An EPP Summit is held on the eve of every European Council Meeting and further assists policy-makers in the party to develop EPP strategy. The EPP is committed to a federal Europe, based on the principle of subsidiarity – a democratic, transparent and efficient Europe.

The Party of European Socialists (PES) was founded in 1992, succeeding the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the European Community, which had been in operation since 1974. The PES includes the socialist, social democratic, and labor parties of the European Union. PES policy is influenced by the Leaders’ Conference, which meets three to four times a year to adopt policy and discuss political strategy of the group. Members of the Leaders’ Conference include prime ministers and party leaders of the PES member parties. The aims of PES are strengthening the socialist and social democratic movement throughout Europe. The PES Group, also referred to as the “Socialist Group” is the second largest group that sits in the European Parliament.

The Alliance of Liberal Democrats (ALDE) is the third largest group in the EP. ALDE brings together liberal and democratic parties across the European Union in an attempt to promote open-minded and forward-looking policy. ALDE’s members are drawn from the European Liberal Democrat and Reform party, the European Democratic Party, and various independent parties. The ALDE Bureau is the main decision making body of the ALDE Group. It is composed of the leaders of the ALDE National Delegations, and oversees the Group’s main strategy and policies. ALDE’s approach combines a concern for individual liberty with a free and dynamic business culture, economic and social solidarity, concern for the future of the environment, and respect and tolerance for cultural, religious and linguistic diversity. The group is pursuing three major campaigns: climate change, patient rights, and government transparency.

Although apparently with different/opposing ideologies, the tradition of political compromise and consensus-reaching policies has made the “party families” are increasingly seen as sacrificing their traditional position and their electorate in favor of supranational, multi-party interests, in a trend sometimes called “party-centrism”, meant to achieve the European integration, but more and more seen as a sacrifice of the national interest.

The “anti-system” movements challenge the uniform “politically correct” messages of the traditional “families” and appear to the increasingly disillusioned people as “different’, “new” and “non-corrupt”, full of new resources to change the political life.

c) Euro-skepticism

At the same time, both the far left and the far right extremes are dwelling into Euro-skepticism to develop their anti-system protest. At a tactical level, the “anti-system” parties have found it useful to add criticism of the mainstream parties’ approach to EU politics to their arsenal of general protest. At the strategic level, several parties have found that their main issues increasingly have a European dimension, whether they are mainstream issues such as economic regulation or more controversial issues ranging from the left socialists’ anti-NATO position to the right’s opposition to immigration. At a third level, principled objections to European integration may be based e.g. on nationalism, concern for democracy or sovereignty, or even internationalist opposition to regional integration. The common factor is a degree of dissent, opposition to government policy on European integration.

The central role of dissent in Euro-skeptic politics indicates a strong potential link with populist anti-elite protest. Both traditional across-the-board anti-establishment populism and ‘new populism’ have been associated with Euro-skepticism. Inasmuch as the EU has been interpreted as a case of co-operation between national elites, it has drawn populist criticism.

On the extreme right and left flanks of the party systems, communist and fascist parties extended the spectrum and introduced an anti-system dimension to opposition. Most communist and neo-fascist parties have opposed European integration, either as part of western capitalism or as a threat to the nation. Much the same can be said of their more moderate (and more successful) successors, the ‘new politics’ of both the left and right which has taken over and crowded out much of the old extreme right and left’s opposition.

Most of the parties on the flanks of the party system have maintained a degree of anti-system appeal. Unsurprisingly given their anti-system posture and opposition to free market economic policy, most West European communist parties long opposed European integration and the same thing can be said for several extreme-right parties. However, their more moderate successors on the ‘new politics’ or green left and populist right feature more complex attitudes to European integration, often of a ‘softer’ variety. On the right this may be a matter of more or less open xenophobic nationalism. Yet this is sometimes mirrored on the left in a combination of concern for and an internationalist orientation that condemns all actual efforts as western capitalist projects. The origins of most of the new left and populist right parties and their strategies for electoral competition reinforce any ideological tendencies they may have towards Euro-skepticism.

In the case of the former communist states in Eastern Europe, the “anti-system” movements are sustained also by the so-called losers of the transition, as well as by the “Nostalgic” who see the European integration as inducing a crisis of the State by which it loses control of its territory in the political and economic senses. At the same time, the European integration and the modernization are seen to have a too high economic, social and cultural price.

d) Failures of the supra-national institutions

According to most analysts, the growing success of the “anti-system” groups is to be explained by the increasing feeling of fear, since more and more people see themselves no longer protected by their own states and most of all, by the supra-national  financial entities in face of the economic and social difficulties.

Moreover, a growing number of people is becoming convinced that supra-national engagements and institutions (the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties, the Brussels bureaucracy, the European Central Bank, the IMF), by imposing austerity measures – such as small budget deficits, increased retirement age, etc. – practically “destroy” the nation-state, but also the welfare state, and put the burden of the crisis on the less favored.

The “Occupy” movement has made it very clear that hundreds of thousands of people are distressed and angry enough at the present situation to march in the rain and snow, occupy banks, sleep on the ground, attend countless meetings, getting arrested, and above all make their voices heard. Poll after poll shows a rising tide of anger at the very, very rich and the financial institutions that serve them. People want jobs or an income to live on if they can’t get work. They want the rich to pay a lot more taxes so that social services aren’t cut while more workers are laid off. They want their money spent on the environment and schools and hospitals and housing, not bailouts to the banks and endless wars.

In Europe, integration is no longer seen as having “rescued” the nation state, reinforcing its capabilities for governance, and the public that supported the national political elite in its supranational activities sees more and more that these activities do no longer serve national, social and economic security. Even more, integration seems to threaten social, economic or cultural interests.

The recent presidential elections in France showed a surprisingly large “protest” or anti-system vote. With a combined total of 29% for Marine Le Pen of the extreme right Front National (18%, the party’s best ever result) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far left Front de Gauche (11%) – a total which climbs to over 30% if one includes the other candidates of the far left – nearly a third of French voters cast their ballots in favor of candidates who explicitly reject the current national and European policy consensus. These results are even more striking when they are broken down by occupational category. 55% of industrial workers and 43% of white-collar workers voted for these anti-system parties. This would suggest that a growing part of the working and lower middle class losers of globalization and European economic integration – oppose the policies of economic liberalization and social retrenchment that have been advocated by the French and European political elite over the past three decades.

Germans, on the other hand, appear increasingly wary of the costs that the bailouts and pro-growth policies advocated by Europeans elsewhere may end up costing them. The Pirates have expanded their base by tapping into those fears, as well as addressing the feeling among many Germans that decisions regarding the euro crisis have been made over their heads, in ways not fully transparent. Their promise to increase every individual’s range to take action, and to give citizens more power to take part in political decisions through electronic means put them at odds with the traditional categories of “left” and “right”. The Pirates’ success is due not least to their rejection of conventional political views. But they are not a reaction to the financial crisis – instead, they profit from the fact that an increasing proportion of the electorate feel that the traditional political parties do not speak to them any longer.

e) New political landscape in Europe

The rising of the “anti-system” (extreme but also “non-left/non-right”) groups also reflects a new European political landscape, where the binary politics between a Christian democratic right and social democratic left, with a small space for classic liberal parties, is now over, giving place to a centrifugal politics with identity replacing class alignment. No single party or political formation can win control of the state and govern on the basis of a manifesto with majority support from voters.

Postwar Europe had one great foe and one great friend to produce unity of political purpose, even if big parties battled over priorities. Social and Christian democrats were united against Sovietism and Moscow’s proxy parties on the communist left. The United States allied itself to the moderate right and left to create NATO, support the suppression of nationalisms with the creation of the European Union, and wean Europeans away from protectionist economics in favor of open trade and competitive markets.

Now Europe no longer faces an agreed common threat, nor is the United States an inspiration any longer, especially after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from which most Europeans recoil with dismay. The recession and banking crisis are blamed on unregulated American free markets.

The decay of the centrist ruling parties is being hastened by European electoral systems based on the 19th-century philosophy of proportional representation, which allows even small parties to gain a share of the seats in Parliament. This is now preventing any coherent leadership from emerging in Europe. Each movement or group can create its own party to maintain its electoral purity. The diluted support from voters has reduced considerably the mandate to govern of traditional parties and eroded the self-confidence of the once dominant formations of post-war politics.

Recent elections fought under variations of proportional representation have seen the rise of nationalist and anti-immigrant parties into national parliaments. Some parties, like Jobbik, which also calls itself “The Movement for a Better Hungary”, are anti-Semitic. The nationalist right in East Europe seeks to downplay the Holocaust by comparing the crimes of European communism with the extermination of Jews in Nazi death camps.

Without a common foe and with the Atlantic alliance ceasing to be a priority, the politics of Community is replacing the politics of Society. New communities of “true believers” are forming all over Europe. Those who trace their national woes to immigrants – or nuclear power, or the EU, or Muslims, or Jews, or market economics, or the United States – are uniting in new political communities, for which the guiding impulse is to reject, to say “No!”

On the other hand, the EU elites in Brussels have no answer to the slow disintegration of national political parties. The project of building a united Europe requires national parties that can command majority support, including support for granting greater powers to the EU elite, which has yet to command much respect on its own. The inward-looking, infighting Brussels governing class regulates a weak regional economy that now has 23 million unemployed, and no plan of attack. No commissioners ever lose their job, no matter how crude or incompetent they are. Europe now has three presidents – for the Commission, Council, and Parliament –but no leadership.

The EU leadership gap creates another easy target of opportunity for the “anti-system”, which is adept at exploiting the resentments stirred by economic decline. In the years of strong European growth in the 1960s, foreign workers were seen as adding value to national economies, but now they are blamed for stealing jobs. And the EU’s newly opened borders are blamed for letting in the outsiders. Nationwide rightist parties go on the attack. And regional communities like Catalan, Flemish, or Scottish nationalists reject staying within Spain, Belgium, or the United Kingdom. The dreams that a common European economic and social liberalism would replace the old atavisms of nation-first politics are on hold.

Perspectives for the extreme and “anti-system” movements in Europe

As the economic crisis deepens in Europe, analysts agree that economic and economic-related social crisis is likely to be the main factor influencing the evolution of the “anti-system” movements. As in the case of the 1930s depression, support for extremist parties and the instability of democratic systems are linked to the difficult economic conditions. Ethno-linguistic, religious, and class cleavages are also fault lines complicating the development of social consensus and hindering the adoption of a concerted response to economic crisis. The danger of political polarization and extremism is greatest in countries with relatively recent histories of democracy, with existing right-wing extremist parties, and with electoral systems that create low hurdles to parliamentary representation of new parties. However, the greatest risk is seen to be if depressed economic conditions are allowed to persist.

The current crisis has brought down the “free-market” myth, but until now it is apparently not being yet replaced by a dominant economic alternative. Analysts see, however, several new or re-emerging theories that compete, but so far fail to present an alternative to the dominant ideas of 1978-2008: right-wing populism, Keynesian social-democracy, libertarianism and socialist anti-capitalism.

In crisis-affected Europe, the right-wing populism (anti-globalization, anti-EU, anti-immigration) is seen as rising, as well as the libertarianism (Friedrich Hayek’s school of thought, followed in the US by the Republicans) that blames the situation on too much intervention of the state in the economy and reject the social-democrat Keynesian solution. In Germany, libertarians are on the rise after the European Central Banks proposals aimed to escape the risks of country bailouts.

On the other hand, the Keynesian social-democrat current advocates increased spending to stimulate economic growth and a more extended and active state, for a better regulation of the finances, industrial policies and fighting inequality. In this last aspect, it matches the worldwide concerns (a more active state is also being promoted by US president Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election).

Moreover, while the European extreme left is seen as growing less than the right (still affected by the Soviet collapse), increased unemployment and economic difficulties in Europe may bring a new impulse for the communist/anti-capitalist tendencies.

Most analysts agree that the rising trend of the extreme/“anti-system” groups and movements does not constitute a long-term danger, since Europe’s democracy is seen as strong, even too strong, as political parties fragment and competing voices sound louder.

The fact that most of these movements do not have concrete positions and proposals about the big issues, such as the economic crisis, or military deployments abroad is seen as a political drawback for the extreme and “anti-system” groups, even if the “No” votes may seem successful in the beginning.

On the other hand, the political fragmentation that is characteristic for the present-day European countries may offer such groups greater possibilities to subvert the system “from within”, since some of them are needed by the mainstream/governing parties to pass legislation. Thus they are in a “blackmailing” position to attain their goals, even if they are not expressing a majority will.

One of the possible solutions for the European establishment is seen in a confident leadership that can unite its splintering communities behind a vision that can say more than no. Another solution is to increase communication and direct participation in the decision-making process, for which the “technical support”, the Internet, already exists and it is commonly used by the “anti-system”.

[1] They were analyzed in a previous paper

[2] “We are the 99%”, the Occupiers’ slogan, refers to the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners compared to the other 99 percent

[3] Author of several works on party systems in the 1960s and 1970s, among which “Parties and Party Systems”, 1976, which is considered the analytic framework that dominates the thinking about this subject. Since its inception, however, the concept of an anti-system party has not only been used in party system analysis, but also in the context of empirical studies of various aspects of the life of democratic regimes, to indicate challenges to its stability, legitimacy or, more recently, consolidation.


  1. Kai Arzheimer, University of Mainz: Fringe Parties (author’s version), see http://www.kai-arzheimer.com/fringe-parties-arzheimer.pdf
  2. Alan de Bromhead, Barry Eichengreen, Kevin H O’Rourke: Right-wing political extremism in the Great Depression, VoxEu, 27 February 2012, see http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/7660
  3. Melissa Eddy: Upstarts Continue to Hijack Votes in Germany, New York Times, May 8, 2012 , see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/world/europe/the-pirate-party-continues-to-hijack-votes-in-germany.html?pagewanted=all
  4. Morgan Rodgers Gibson: The Role of Anarchism in Contemporary Anti-Systemic Social Movements, 06.05.2010, see http://libcom.org/library/role-anarchism-contemporary-anti-systemic-social-movements
  5. Henry Giroux: In the Twilight of the Social State: Rethinking Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History in Truthout, 04.01.2011, see http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=71:in-the-twilight-of-the-social-state-rethinking-walter-benjamins-angel-of-history
  6. Gabriel Goodliffe: Analyzing the First Round of the French Presidential Election: The Anger of France’s Losers of Globalization, in CambridgeBlog, May 2, 2012, see http://www.cambridgeblog.org/2012/05/french-election-2012/
  7. Alkman Granitsas: Fringe Parties Tap Into Greek Anger, Wall Street Journal Europe, 02.05.2012, see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304868004577374132041024786.html
  8. Richard Heuzé: Italie : Parme, symbole du rejet des politiques, Le Figaro, 23.05.2012, see http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2012/05/23/01003-20120523ARTFIG00411-italie-parme-symbole-du-rejet-des-politiques.php
  9. Saki Knafo: Occupy Activists: Chicago NATO Summit Helped Revitalize Movement, Huffington Post, 21.05.2012, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/21/occupy-chicago-nato-summit_n_1534402.html

10.  Denis MacShane: Rise of the Right, Newsweek, 24.09.2010, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/09/24/europe-the-rise-of-the-extreme-right.html

11.  Gideon Rachman: Traiască piaţa liberă a ideilor, 10.01.2012, see http://www.presseurop.eu/ro/content/article/1379451-traiasca-piata-libera-ideilor

  1. Nick Sitter: Opposing Europe: Euro-Scepticism, Opposition and Party Competition, Sussex European Institute Working Paper no.56, Opposing Europe Research Network Working Paper No 9, 2002

13.  Sorina Soare: Romania – taramul fagaduintei pentru partidele contra, Sfera Politicii, see http://www.sferapoliticii.ro/sfera/123-124/art5-soare.html

14.  Juli Zeh: The Pirate Party fits the political gap, The Guardian, 18.05.2012, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/18/germany-pirate-party-political-gap

  1. Associated Press: Pro-EU Government likely in Serbia despite election of pro Russian nationalist as president, 21.05.2012, see  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pro-eu-government-likely-in-serbia-despite-election-of-pro-russian-nationalist-as-president/2012/05/21/gIQA48MweU_story.html

16.  Comedian Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement Shock the Nation in Recent Elections, ItalyMag, 16.05.2012, see http://www.italymag.co.uk/italy/politics/comedian-beppe-grillo-and-five-star-movement-shock-nation-recent-elections

17.  Elections? Stay in the streets, Jan 29, 2012, see http://www.iacenter.org/actions/elections013012/

18.  Germany’s Pirate Party: The ayes have it, The Economist, 12.04.2012, see http://www.economist.com/node/21553484

19.  Manual on Political Party Identity and Ideology, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Washington, D.C., March 2008, see http://www.ndi.org/files/2321_identitymanual_engpdf_06032008.pdf

20.  http://strugglesinitaly.wordpress.com/info-on-italian-politics/movimento-cinque-stelle/

21.  www.hopenothate.org.uk

22.  www.wikipedia.org

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