What Europe's Far Right Sees in Trump's Win

The victory of a candidate they believe espouses their views has emboldened them.

Marine Le Pen, head of France's National Front, greets Geert Wilders, president of the Netherlands’s Party for Freedom in Lyon, France, on November 29, 2014.
Marine Le Pen, head of France's National Front, greets Geert Wilders, president of the Netherlands’s Party for Freedom in Lyon, France, on November 29, 2014. (Robert Pratta / Reuters)

The congratulations began even before it was clear Donald Trump would triumph in the American presidential election, and they continued the next day as leaders of the European far right, who’d made common cause with some of the Republican presidential nominee’s stated policies, reveled in what they predicted would be their own victories next year.

There was Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France, who called Trump’s election a “great movement across the world.” Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who in the 1970s revived an ideology discredited in Europe by World War II and transformed it from a minor embarrassing irritant into a real contender against the dominant center-left and center-right ideologies in France, said: “Today the United States, tomorrow France.” In the U.K., Nigel Farage, the head of the U.K. Independence Party who had championed Brexit and campaigned alongside Trump, said, he “couldn’t be happier.” In the Netherland, Geert Wilders, who heads the Party for Freedom, called Trump’s win “historic.” In Germany, Frauke Petry, the head of Alternative for Germany (AfD), said Trump’s victory “changes the USA, Europe, and the world.” And in Austria, which is on the verge of electing a far-right leader to its highest, but largely ceremonial, position of president, Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of the Freedom Party, said voters had punished “the political left and the aloof and sleazy establishment.”

We don’t yet know whether a President Trump would govern the way candidate Donald Trump said he would. Many of the more controversial elements of his policies--a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico to keep away immigrants, a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S.—were dispensed with in the last days of his campaign against Hillary Clinton. But after his victory, Trump reiterated a consistent theme from his campaign, tweeting: “The forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again.” It’s both those elements that Trump’s admirers on the European far-right find the most attractive.

Describing his own role in popularizing an anti-globalization view that is sweeping the Western world, Farage, the UKIP leader, told the BBC: “I'm the catalyst for the downfall of the Blairites, the Clintonites, the Bushites, and all these dreadful people who, working hand-in-glove with Goldman Sachs and everybody else, have made themselves rich and ruined our countries.”

And while UKIP’s immediate prospect of winning a general election in the U.K., or even emerge as a major opposition party, is limited, the same is not true of its ideological allies in the rest of Western Europe. France, Germany, and the Netherlands all hold elections in 2017 and their current leaders, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Mark Rutte, face re-energized far-right oppositions.

The Netherlands, which votes in general elections next March, is the first place we’ll likely whether the emergence Trump (or, indeed, Brexit) can be emulated in continental Europe. Rutte, the prime minister of the center-right Liberals, governs in a coalition with the center-left Labour party. Polls show Wilders’s Freedom Party running neck-and-neck with the Liberals, but it is unlikely to be able to cobble together a coalition government even if it emerges as the single-biggest party in parliament.

France votes in its presidential election in April and May of next year. Hollande, the president from the Socialist Party, is deeply unpopular, and it’s unclear he’ll run. In any event, a Socialist candidate is likely to face off against a center-right candidate as well as Marine Le Pen, whose National Front is polling at about 30 percent. That’s likely to get her into the second round of voting, but possibly insufficient to vault her into the presidential palace. The National Front, despite a four-decade presence in French politics, only has a small presence in the National Assembly.

Germany votes next fall. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approval ratings are at a multi-year low, but they are still above 50 percent, higher than her European counterparts and comparable to President Obama, who’s enjoying a relative honeymoon in the waning days of his presidency. Merkel, who has been chancellor for 11 years, has been hurt by her decision to open Germany’s borders to Syrians fleeing the civil war, as well as several terrorist attacks in the country over the summer. She hasn’t said whether she’ll seek re-election, but her Christian Democratic Union has lost ground in regional elections, including in her home region; among the big gainers is Petry’s AfD, which will hope to use its growing popularity amid skepticism among Germans toward immigration to be elected to Parliament for the first time.

Whether the AfD—or any of its Euroskeptic, anti-immigration allies—are able to upend expectations and form a far-right Western alliance isn’t known, but what is clear is that they see Trump’s victory in the U.S. as a roadmap for their own across Europe.