Nationalism is an idealism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries and people. This ideology began to pick up steam in the early 19th century as Europe went through the unification of the German Kingdoms in Central Europe, and the Italian Kingdoms in Southern Europe. Fast forward to the early 20th century, and Europe and Asia are engulfed in a bloody struggle between nationalist regimes such as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and more globalist-leaning nations such as Britain and the United States. Everyone knows the result of this war: the world we live in today. Recently, nationalism has made a resurgence in Europe in the form of far-right populist parties and these parties are taking part in most of the elections in the European Union this year. This political situation is alarming because when nationalism and populism are propagated by a political party, fear and hate can spread like wildfire.
The Netherlands had a general election on the 15th of March in which Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) faced fierce opposition from the Dutch Nationalist Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders. The PVV had a late surge in the polls making the race neck and neck between them and the VVD. Many were afraid that if Wilders was able to become Prime Minister he would be able to persuade parliament to enact legislation to leave the European Union and make laws restricting the rights of Dutch Muslims. People all over the country and all over the European Union were anxiously awaiting the results as they saw it as an indicator of European political sentiment. When the results came in it was a sigh of relief for the leaders of the EU. PM Mark Rutte’s VVD emerged victorious, only losing a few seats while Geert Wilders’ PVV won enough seats to have come in a distant second place. Many analysts believe that most other elections will follow the same course.
Now to look at France. This year is a presidential election year in France, and there are many parallels between the U.S. election. The front runner of the election up until mid February was Francois Fillon, but his hopes were dashed after a scandal involving him hiring his wife for unofficial jobs during his time in parliament. The new frontrunners are the nationalist Marine Le Pen of the National Front Party and centrist Emmanuel Macron, the leader of the En Marche party. Marine Le Pen is well known for her anti-Islam and anti-EU rhetoric. She is currently polling at around 30%, as is Macron, three weeks before the first round of voting on 23 April. Macron and Le Pen are expected to come out of the vote as the top two and will face a runoff on 7 May. The fact that Marine Le Pen, a politician once thought far too radical to run a winning campaign, is neck and neck with a centrist candidate is proving quite worrisome to most mainstream politicians in Europe. The National Front is proving that populist and nationalistic sentiment in France is appealing to at least 30% of the French population, a rather frightening statistic.
Nationalism has a history of tearing Europe apart; it has brought two world wars and has killed millions of innocent people. The increasing popularity of far-right nationalist parties in Europe is rightfully disconcerting to anyone that believes in global cooperation and supranational organizations such as the European Union. The future of Western Democracy is at stake in these elections; voters will be forced to choose between continued progress and cooperation and isolation and xenophobia. This xenophobia, which is a fear of people of different nationalities than oneself, only deepens divides between people based on superficial categories such a as language or race. European nationalists thrive on xenophobic sentiments and electoral victories for them will only create more hatred and xenophobia. The outcome of the Dutch election may be a sliver of hope for those who wish to keep Europe open and free but the continent is not out of the woods yet.