EUROPE'S POPULIST REVOLT: DREAM OR NIGHTMARE?
The resounding gains made by the anti-EU parties in last week's European parliamentary elections have alerted Europe's mainstream leadership to its fundamentally precarious position. This is a warning Stratfor sounded more than two years ago, when we predicted the rise of the far right and cautioned that these fringe groups should not be underestimated, precisely because they were tapping into very real and deepening sentiments that emerged from the economic and social malaise that has developed since 2008. The highest levels of European leadership are finally and unequivocally feeling the political consequences of years of unemployment and stagnating growth across much of the continent. The dismal election results for many of the mainstream European parties (particularly in France, Spain and the United Kingdom) overshadowed the small but much-lauded gross domestic product growth figures for the year to date that dominated headlines until last week. The current European leadership sees the rapid rise of Euroskeptical parties as an existential threat to the postwar order in Europe. This is not only because of old specters of Europe's bloody nationalist past, but also because the economic and financial stability of the continent has been rigged (sometimes haphazardly) around the open market and common currency that these Euroskeptical parties want to recuse.Stratfor: Geopolitical Diary, "Europe's Political Mainstream Gets A Wake-Up Call." Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 29 May 2014, in www.stratfor.com.
After five years of economic crisis, the 2014 elections to the European Parliament were always expected to produce victories for the populist parties that reject the EU and its political values. And so it has proved, with fringe and nationalist movements dealing a blow not just to the European project but to national governments who appear out of touch. The populist surge has been startling. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front has won its biggest victory at a national poll since it was founded in 1972. In Britain, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence party came first, humiliating the three main parties. Denmark’s far right People’s party and Greece’s radical left Syriza also emerged victorious. While this has been a moment of triumph for populist parties, the results are far from a comprehensive rejection of the EU by voters across the bloc. Eurosceptics will remain a clear minority in the European Parliament. Given the scale of the economic crisis that Europe has endured, this is hardly a coup for the European rejectionists. Moreover, it is significant that mainstream party leaders with strong reform programmes beat off the populist challenge. In Italy, Matteo Renzi, the centre-left leader, saw off the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s CDU did less well than in the 2009 European elections. But the German chancellor retained her commanding lead over the Social Democrats, leaving her unchallenged as Europe’s dominant political leader.Leader, "Stark warning from Europe’s voters: Populists have gained but so have the reformers." The Financial Times. 26 May 2014, in www.ft.com. The political earthquake that some were predicting to occur in the European elections: either joyfully or in dread has to some degree occurred 1. The fact that in four (France, Uk, Greece and Denmark) EU countries the anti-European Union, populist parties came in first and in several more (Italia, Hungary, Finland, Austria) they came in either second or third is of course revealing. It is a startling indication of the disconnection between the European pays legal and pays reel. Something that this online journal has been talking about for a good number of years now. Even pre-dating the crisis over the Euro. With that being said, the results per se are not 1933 redivivus. Why? Well simply put, the elections themselves are not, in the larger scheme of things really important. The results of the elections do not per se, decide or determine for example the complexion of the next European Commission or its President (albeit the latter was supposed to have been based upon which list: Christian-Democratic or Socialist came in first). Accordingly, in many ways the European Union elections, with its very low turn-out (at least for European elections) lend themselves to wide swings and protest votes of parties which are not in terms of national elections very important. If and only if, something akin to the same results in at least two or three of the above named countries were to occur, would it be accurate to say that the cauchmar of populist rabblerousing had became an important variable in European politics. Which is not, per contra to the usual bien-pensant, European intelligentsia to discount aspects of the anti-metropolitan discourse that is utilized (often highly cynically of course) by populist showman. Many, many years ago, the late, great Enoch Powell back in 1968 illustrated to all and sundry the end results of refusing, ostrich-like, to tabulate the consequences of third-world, non-white immigration to the European continent. Nothing which has occurred from that time to this has shown him to be wrong. As he brilliantly argued:
"We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancées whom they have never seen....As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood". That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now". 2Of course the populist politicians like Mr. Wilders of the Netherlands have no solutions to the problems outlined by Enoch Powell, and indeed one is tempted to say that they would prefer to have the problem of immigration continue in order to have a political football to kick around. Accordingly, it is my surmise that in the absence of a deep and prolonged depression in EU Europe, that the populist wave will soon enough spend itself and it will be politics as usual in both Brussels and elsewhere in Europe. Of which all one can say is: more is the pity. 1. Besides the Financial Times leader, see: Valentina Pop, "EU leaders digest anti-establishment vote." EU Observer. 27 May 2014 in www.euobserver.com. 2. Enoch Powell, Quoted from Speech to Annual Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, Birmingham, 20 April 1968.