Protectionism and the Rise of the European Right-Wing

The ‘poor, angry, white man’ [1], as some of Trump’s critics would proclaim, was the reason his popularity parades him to electoral victory. If so, what made him poor, what made him angry? As economic uncertainty and political distrust become more prevalent subjects in common dinner table discussion, Right-Wing movements and populist approaches to politics continue to hit new heights in Europe.

In order to compete on the global level, notably with American and Japanese markets, European member states need stable collaboration towards a Common Market. Since its conception in 1957, the European Economic Community has established measures to regulate trade and promote stable growth and integration amongst its members. However, as protectionism becomes more prevalent [2], a trend the European Commission reports is now present more than ever, EU member states will find collaborative exporting more difficult with limits to free trade. Since the Financial Crisis of 2008, there has been a rising number of policies enacting product import restrictions, requiring import licenses for various products, an increase in tariffs, and general regulation and oversight capability of importing parties. Between July 2014 to December 2015, 31 EU trade partners introduced 201 of these aforementioned measures, whilst only 16 of them were withdrawn. This added market inefficiency [4] only encourages Euroscepticism [5], a doubt in the ability of EU, and is further fueled by the consequences of a Brexit, the process for which is likely to begin this Tuesday the 17th of January when British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.

In recent years the Right-Wing has found momentum in Europe [6], with the European Parliament elections of 2014 allocating 25% of the seats to Eurosceptic parties. Its dogma against the liberal economic mainstream bodes well with the middle and lower classes, whose employment potential has been most hampered by globalization, outsourcing and automation. Such Right-Wing parties have sprung up across Europe, some of the most popular of which include: France’s Front National (polling at 22%), Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland (12%), UK’s Independence Party (12%), and Austria’s Freedom Party (46% of 2016 election). A common ideological feature of these parties is one which insinuates that the mainstream body politic of today is disillusioned in its support for the EU. Populist figures claim that an unregulated, free market has shown to be untrustworthy, whereas this assertion is allegedly epitomized by the Financial Crisis of 2008 [7] and the gross gains made by the private lenders and subprime underwriters, respectively. And thus, following the same Rightist line of logic, the resultant increase in protectionist measures is desirable if the national market and its associated labor force is to be preserved.

It comes as no surprise that some governments may choose to fully shelter themselves from an increasingly protectionist EU market by exiting the EU. If British Prime Minister Theresa May is successful in negotiating a favorable Brexit [8] for her nation, the fracture will still detrimentally affect EU members who will now turn to Germany [9] for chief financial support and guidance. Not only is the direct effect of Brexit significant, but it has also caused the formalization of the constitutional procedure to do so through an amendment of the Treaty of Lisbon [10]. Thus, the anti-EU, pro-exit doctrine of Right-Wing parties is given legitimacy, and with this legitimacy comes political weight.

To answer the original questions, with increasing economic uncertainty after the Financial Crisis of 2008 and a growing distrust of the mainstream body politic, man became frustrated and put up barriers around its borders. As a result, this same man saw the effects of a disjointed EU and became poorer in a more disjointed market. Upon seeing such errs, the man, now angry, turns to the Right-Wing and looks up at figures like Trump, Le Pen or Petry with a resolute hope.


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