June 1, 2014

EU Elections: A Shot Across The Bow

by Hal Gershowitz

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It is, of course, an old nautical term.  Loosely speaking, stop or alter course…we’re prepared to do battle.

 And indeed they are. They being a patch quilt of dissident groups across all of Europe united only by their antipathy toward centralized, one-world governance, Euro zone fiscal policy, immigrants and porous borders. There has been much handwringing since the EU elections this past week. It’s bad for the Muslims, bad for the Jews, bad for the Greens, bad for the bankers, bad for the depositors, bad for the industrialists, bad for the socialists, etc, etc. Actually, it is none of these things, and, yes sadly, all of these things.  They march under a variety of angry banners, some repulsive, some pseudo patriotic. A single unifying banner under which this mélange of grouches could coalesce might be American Revolutionary General Christopher Gadsden’s “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, depicting a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike.

Robert Schuman, twice Prime Minister of post-war France, and generally considered to be the father of the EU, must be spinning in his grave.  He yearned for a confederation of nations organized to relegate to the dustbin of history, Europe’s long-standing predilection for war, slaughter, xenophobia, and misery. Like so many well intentioned experiments in centralized planning and governance, the Brussels-based EU quickly overreached, and now as many as one in four Europeans, through a weird assortment of rag-tag political parties, have registered their thunderous objection.

Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s “We Are The World” might rally the masses behind a charitable cause, but it seems it wouldn’t do very well as a political slogan. The nation-state, for better or worse, is alive and well and flexing its collective muscle.  Euroskeptics have been around since the very beginning of the EU experiment, but the growth in their numbers over the last five years is noteworthy, if not startling. Five years ago they could barely muster 60 seats in the 751-seat European Parliament. Last week, that count shot up to about 140 seats or nearly 20% of the EU’s legislative body.

While 140 votes can’t dictate legislation in Brussels, those votes can certainly influence it.  Collectively, the Euroskeptics will speak with a much louder and much more credible voice.  They will serve on key committees and participate in all debates.  Fear within the EU that the strong Euroskeptic showing envisages a growing trend will temper EU initiatives and policy.  The European press and assorted talking heads have described the election as an earthquake and a tsunami.  We’ll avoid the histrionics, but make no mistake about it; the election represents a dark day for progressives in Europe, and, clearly, uncharted sailing for the entire EU. Indeed, this sour grape may leave a long lingering aftertaste.

Where to begin.

The two greatest tremors clearly occurred in Britain and France where strong Euroskeptic parties, Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Marine Le Pen’s National Front ran away with the European elections in their respective countries.  UKIP took about 28% of the vote, far surpassing the 16.6 per cent it picked up in the last European elections in 2009.  This is huge and it represents the first time in our memory that neither the Labor Party nor the Conservative Party won a national election in Great Britain. .

Then there is France.

Given that France was the birthplace of the EU, it is a doubly bitter pill that the land of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood) is also the land of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front, which trounced all other parties in France, including President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party.  The ruling Socialist Party sank to a dismal third place in the EU voting.  Marine Le Pen insists that the National Front is simply a France-First movement. How far this morsel of fruit has fallen from the tree represented by her racist, anti-Semitic father and founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is anyone’s guess.  UKIP’s Farage says not far enough, and has vowed to have nothing to do with Le Pen.

Ms. Le Pan has, however, wasted no time in trying to consolidate her strong showing in France with that of other far-right fringe groups all over the continent.  She rushed off to Brussels where, at a press conference, she pledged to form an alliance with like-minded groups that would prevent any progress toward European unity and which would restore the power of individual nation-states. Together with representatives of the new ultra nationalists from Austria, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands she exclaimed, “the model of a totalitarian technocratic Europe is now out of date.”  In other words, she and like-minded party leaders from across the continent are committed to ending the post-war European experiment.

The Austrian Freedom Party’s Harald Vilimsky, referred to Ms. Le Pen as “the iconic figure of the new Europe who will bring sovereignty back to the nation state.”  “Brussels,” he sermonized xenophobically, “had become a combination of Rome, Jerusalem and Mecca.”

While we believe the Eruoskeptic vote was primarily a vote of “no confidence” (or, perhaps, greatly diminished confidence) in the EU and against excessive control from Brussels, we are mindful of the viral potential of racism and bigotry whenever the body politic is weak. Healthy economies are the strongest defense against the scourge of xenophobic scapegoating.

National Front look-a-likes, in fact, did pretty well all over Europe. The anti-establishmentarians made impressive gains in Belgium, Greece, and Denmark and elsewhere on the continent. French President Hollande said it reflects, “distrust in Europe and a fear of decline.”  That’s putting it mildly.  We suspect it reflects fear of a lot more.

In Germany, even the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) has now made it to the EU parliament (with one seat). Nazis in the EU Parliament — think of that!

NPD has one primary objective, stopping immigration and is unabashedly racist and anti-Semitic. The NPD has bandied about slogans like “Money for granny instead of Sinti and Roma” (gypsies) and “the boat is full,” and insists that Europe is “a continent of white people,”

It get’s worse.

Hungary’s nationalist party Jobbik, is unabashed neo-Nazi, and picked off about 15% of the votes there.  Some of its parliamentarians have called for the country’s Jewish inhabitants to sign a special register. “I think… it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary,” the party’s deputy parliamentary leader opined.  Hungary…in this day and age, of all places!

And then there is Greece.  Golden Dawn, the Greek ultra nationalist party has now won its first seats in the European Parliament.  The Party’s main spokesman sports a swastika tattoo, and has quoted in Parliament from the anti-Semitic screed, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Even in liberal, tiny Denmark, The right-wing Danish People’s Party won a whopping 27% of the vote.  Responding to criticism from Sweden, the party’s founder Pia Kjærsgaard retorted: “If they (Sweden) want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge.”  That would be the five-mile long bridge connecting Danish Copenhagen with Swedish Malmo.

Finland has its own anti-euro, nationalist party (Finns), which managed to add two members to the EU Parliament.  While the Party has denied accusations of homophobia and racism, its members in the EU Parliament have publically denounced Muslims and same-sex couples.

And, of course, we have the Netherlands and Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom, which did not do as well as many expected in the EU elections.  Wilders, who may be more popular outside of the Netherlands, refers to Islam as the Trojan Horse of Europe.  Last week he exhorted a rally with, “Do you want more or less Moroccans here?’  “Less, Less,” the crowd yelled back in unison.  “We’ll arrange that,” he promised.  Wilders’ Party for Freedom will send four members to the new EU Parliament.

We, of course, have no quarrel with political movements that are leery of the growing consolidation of power in Brussels.  We share much of the concern that a continent of different languages, economies, budgets, cultures and priorities can long coalesce around a central rule-making bureaucracy exerting control over the lives of 500 million people representing over 7.0% of the earth’s inhabitants, let alone a single currency.

Our concern is, of course, that such an enormous economic and social experiment can, and will, most assuredly attract a cabal of malevolent and cunning naysayers who will skillfully attempt to pave yet another road to hell with the good intentions of the those who dreamed of a better Europe.

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4 responses to “EU Elections: A Shot Across The Bow”

  1. David Hanna says:

    As always, many thanks for insightful thought and analysis.

  2. Mark J Levick says:

    If the EU election results were but a revolt against the rule of bureaucrats it woul bode well for all Americans who dread the ongoing expansion of Government into everyday life. Alas except in the UK which has always ben skeptical of rule by the EU, it is nothing more than the exposure of inbred European racism which aided Hitler’s annihilation of millions. Unfortunately both progressives and regressives are intolerant. Does Europe have a silent majority? Let’s hope so.

  3. Charles Anderson says:

    been following this trend toward nation states and wonder if we have been deluding ourselves about how far away even the ‘rational western states’ are from the tribalism we see in the rest of the world.
    excellent review, thanks!!

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