Adriel Kasonta asks what we can learn from the European Parliament elections and the rise of the Eurosceptic movement in Europe
Over the coming days, over 500 million European citizens in 28 member states will vote for their representatives to the European Parliament, despite their ignorance of the political climate that is likely to shape the elections and define the composition of upcoming governance. Even though the current situation is not entirely comparable to that of Europe and Germany of the 1930s and 40s, the rise of far-right parties, their ties to the economic hardships and austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the spread of nationalistic and xenophobic tendencies are alarming.
The popularity of far-right parties and their leaders is strongly linked to economic policies that have plunged much of Europe into a situation of perpetual debt and the socioeconomic repercussions from this but to blame only economic conditions for this state of affairs, however, would be too simple and superficial.
Alongside unemployment, austerity and rising inequality, today’s far-right is also likely to benefit from a collapse of public trust in established politics. Consider this: since the crisis the percentage of voters across Europe who trust the EU has fallen from almost 60% to barely 30% and only one in four say they trust their national leaders. In short, it could be argued that Europe's far-right has never had it so good.
European citizens are currently not only feeling disconnected from affairs in Brussels but seem to also be pushed towards an increasingly powerful Eurosceptic populism, ready to undertake actions against the European institutions by democratically showing their discontent via the voting booth.
To seek the root cause of current sociological reality across the Europe, it is worth mentioning words of the Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannah who argued last year that the decline in voter turnout in the EP elections is an example of how EU citizens are weakly bound to the European democracy, saying: ‘Democracy requires a demos: a unit with which we identify when we use the word “we”. That exists at national levels but – except for a tiny number of Brussels functionaries – it doesn’t exist at a European level. When you take the demos out of democracy, you are left only with the kratos: with the power of a state that must compel by law what it dare not ask in the name of civic engagement.’ He has also added that the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) ‘recognises that people’s primary loyalty is to their national institutions and instead of centralising more powers in Brussels, they want to take decisions closer to the people they affect.”
Above: Trust in the EU has been steadily eroding
Therefore, the very accurate will be to say that European leaders are not able to sense what the EU citizens live and turn them into action because as we probably are aware each political system oscillates between efficiency and legalism. In the EU, the scales are tilted clearly toward the enthusiastic pursuit of effective solutions that will allow the Community to take the joint challenge, and we can’t forget yet Europe is proud to be defending the democratic values that it promotes well beyond its boundaries and yet it is also its biggest weakness. In a democracy, civic participation and the consequent legitimacy of the political order are essential, and the violation of these rules can only result in disaster, which was best expressed on 2 April 2014 by Nigel Farage who was warning of protests and the rise of neo-Nazis: “If you take away from people their ability through the ballot box to change their future because they have given away control of everything to somebody else, I'm afraid they tend to resort to unpleasant means.”
Ever since the 1990’s when Jean-Marie Le Pen started the EuroNat alliance of nationalist parties, far-right parties have been talking to one another. In recent years, however, their networks have tightened. In mid-November 2013, Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National and Geert Wilders of Holland’s Party for Freedom announced an alliance meant to break the European parliament from within. “This is a historical day,” Wilders declared, after finalising his pact with Le Pen in The Hague. “Today is the beginning of the liberation from the European elite, the monster in Brussels.” Le Pen and Wilders will now extend the invitation to like-minded parties across the continent.
The Pollwatch2014 (http://www.electio2014.eu/pollsandscenarios/polls) prediction, based on opinion polls across the European Union puts the French Front National and Dutch Freedom Party leaders on course to form a far Right parliamentary bloc of 38 MEPs from at least seven countries.
A bloc of such a size in the EU assembly would be entitled to over £2 million a year in public funds for European political parties and groups, with British taxpayers contributing around £300,000 and will pose a major political problem for Nigel Farage who declined to campaign with Ms Le Pen on the grounds of her party's past links to neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism, but also because it threatens to break up his current Europe of Freedom and Democracy bloc. This would entail the loss of around £1 million a year in funding.
It is worth mentioning that in many respects, the more interesting predictions concern elections away from the EU. Next year will see important local elections in France where Marine Le Pen hopes to win "hundreds, maybe a thousand" local seats. Her party's grassroots machine has an impressive track record, having won a local by-election in October 2013 that saw her candidate take 53% of the vote. Le Pen’s 'detox strategy' is increasing her party’s appeal within French society, and the local elections are the next step in building a major breakthrough. There are also local elections in the Netherlands, where 2013 saw Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom recover from a difficult start to emerge as the most popular. Nationally, Wilders and the PVV are currently predicted to win more national seats than any other party and are also set for a strong 2014.
Therefore, taking into account the decline of democracy at EU level, anti-EU and Eurosceptic voices do in fact have a vital role to play. With the EU still seriously under-reported in almost every member state and with so few sceptical voices around to form an opposition – one of the most essential elements of any healthy democratic system – it should be of little wonder that there is so much public frustration. The worries of the people are not, in their eyes, being addressed but over the next few years these issues are all going to have to be addressed and it is the MEPs who are going to have to scrutinise the plans and proposals that are put forward to resolve them. If the European Parliament is made up of a majority of Europhiles of fervent internationalists, then this scrutiny is not risks not being intensive enough or fashioned in the way that a growing number of people want it to be- chiefly, with the nation state in control.
To put it in some kind of context, can we imagine a House of Commons made up of 90 percent of MP’s from one single party? That would not be healthy for democracy but more importantly it would not be the kind of check that is necessary to prevent bad legislation and bad constitutional reforms from being passed. Furthermore, with a lack of Eurosceptic voices in the European Parliament, Europe is running the danger that it will not reform the way it operates and where power is concentrated.
We sorely need more critical voices if the EU is ever going to become the kind of genuinely positive force that it could – and should – be. Crucially, we need more MEPs like UKIP leader Nigel Farage – intelligent, sharp critics of the project who can hone in on flaws and bring pressure to bear on the EU to become more accountable to its citizens and not forget that it is a patchwork of nation states, many of which have long and proud nation identities.
We need our “European Horsemen of Apocalypse” who are ‘patrolling the Earth and keep it peaceful’ because as it is said in The Book of Zachariah ‘it may be assumed that when the tribulation begins, the peace is taken away, so their job is to terrify the places in which they patrol’ and on this occasion restore democratic values in the EU.