The European migrant crisis began in 2015, when millions of asylum seekers arrived on Europe’s Mediterranean shores from the Middle East and North Africa. About a year later, far-right populists convinced UK voters to abandon the European Union (EU) to regain full control over national borders.
These two events are intricately linked. Together, they have reshaped European politics.
Today, Europe finds itself at a crossroads: continue down the path of social democracy and globalization or join forces with right-wing movements that seek to preserve cultural identity from outside forces. Although the recent loss of Geert Wilders in the Dutch election was a major blow to the nationalists, the far-right movement appears to be picking up steam throughout the continent.
There are several reasons why the far-right movement has been so effective, and why more people are joining its ranks. In addition to a large influx of unwanted migrants, Europeans are concerned that their country is being unfairly influenced by Brussels, the capital of the soon-to-be 27-member EU. Citizens are also increasingly dissatisfied with the state of the economy a decade after the financial crisis. Although the Eurozone’s unemployment rate recently fell to eight-year lows, the rate of joblessness varies significantly throughout the region.
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU last June emboldened several nationalist movements across the region. Far-right movements in France, Italy, Greece and elsewhere are promising to hold Brexit-style referendums in the event their party wins the next election. Analysts say France and Greece in particular have a decent chance of forming far-right governments soon.
Donald Trump’s shocking election victory in November has also emboldened nationalist parties that share many of his core values. That Trump became the leader of the Republican establishment speaks volumes about the prominence of populist campaigns.
Citizens of the West are increasingly voting with their feet, a sign that far-right populist movements will continue to find success in the future. Citizens are rejecting globalization and are increasingly at odds with migrants whom they feel cannot integrate into their new society.
Far-right movements have tapped into this dissatisfaction by vowing to close national borders, take back control from supranational institutions and stimulate faster economic growth. Whether they get the job done is a completely different story. Early evidence from the Trump presidency suggests implementing a populist agenda is easier said than done.
It remains to be seen how the spread of populism will influence European identity, economics and nation-building. What we do know is that Europhiles and social democrats have a real crisis on their hands. How they respond could dictate the future of the pan-Europe project, which appears to be disintegrating more each day.
 Mehreen Khan (April 3, 2017). “Eurozone unemployment falls to its lowest rate in 8 years.” Financial Times.