Watch out for the rise of a European Tea Party

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Europe’s rebel parties are very far from forming a coherent bloc. They range from proto-fascists such as Hungary’s Jobbik to the far-left Syriza in Greece – and from conservative nationalists such as Poland’s Law and Justice party to semi-anarchists such as the Five Star Movement in Italy. Some of the anti-establishment parties, such as France’s National Front, are trying to make the journey from the far right towards political respectability. A few, such as Ukip and parts of the Italian right, share the tax-cutting, small-government agenda of the Tea Party. Other rebel parties in Europe, including the Dutch Freedom party, have cast themselves as defenders of the traditional welfare state.

What almost all Europe’s anti-establishment parties share with the Tea Party, however, is an anti-elitist rhetoric that casts mainstream politicians as the servants of a remote, globalised elite. Another central theme that unites most of Europe’s anti-establishment parties with the Tea Party is resentment of immigration. When mainstream politicians say – correctly – that their ability to curb immigration is constrained by EU rules on free movement of people, they merely fuel populist rage at “out of touch” elites.

Opinion polls in the richer countries of western Europe show an increasing voter concern about migration – legal and illegal – that is rich fodder for Europe’s Tea Party types. Anger about the economy and about immigration are fusing – and can then be easily directed at the EU itself, which has large powers in both areas. As one British official puts it: “Ukip’s dream is to get Europe, immigration and welfare into the same sentence.”