EuroScepticism and the New EuroRight
Euroscepticism has long been a word synonymous with governments and leaders who hold the European Union experiment as an ineffective institution for resolving European matters. While Jacques Delors preached European unity through EU participation, Margaret Thatcher described the Union as just a cooperative forum for the individual states to discuss cooperation on important matters. This friction between skeptics and Unionists was a largely political battle between governments, particularly the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
But while the conversation is the same, the people involved have changed, and participation has widened. Now, ordinary citizens and political parties are weighing into the debate, lobbying governments for or against the Union on issues ranging from the Euro, immigration and even Islamaphobia. It has further empower the Far Right, who believe the answer to Europe’s problems is to abandon the Union and retreat behind the old national borders. The affairs of Europe are too broad and diverse for anyone body to make decisions on their behalf, they have said. It has also galvanized the Far Right into action with a level of influence that has not been witnessed since the 1930s.
The tone has changed, but the motivations are differing. The gradual democratization of the EU, starting with parliament and now the EuroCommission Presidency, is shifting the level of politics to parties and individuals, not just states. In response, the Unionists have managed to organize successfully alliances of political parties across Europe, representing socialists, liberals, conservative centrists, and even Communists. Instead, regional and national anti-Euro groups work in relative isolation to each other, driven by entirely local, regional or national interests, lobbying their individual governments. Their motives, while numerous and latent, include predominantly nationalist and economic concerns, triggered by the larger economic crisis, and magnified by electronic media.
The group that has most made the headlines abroad is the controversial Front Nationale (FN) in France. Once considered a severe fringe group, it’s leader Marine Le Pen has turned into a growing force on the Right on social issues advocating protectionism, and fighting the rise of Islam in France. The FN, the leftover of neo-fascist groups that emerged during the final years of the Algerian Independence War, made a strong name for advocating deportation of illegal immigrants. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, was arrested for denying the Holocaust, a very sensitive issue that comes from guilt over holocaust involvement and the torture scandals during the Algerian War.In 1979, the FN attempted to form a EuroRight Movement of Far-Right groups, though it ultimately failed. For two decades, they remained marginalized by the tradition conservatives in the Union Party (UMP) and the Socialist Party.
Only in the last two decades has the party finally managed to have a meaningful impact in French politics, causing even the moderate UMP to echo statements made by Le Pen and her supporters. This acknowledgement of the Far Right’s ideas have created consternation among Unionists, especially as the economic crisis created causes for criticism of the EU. “By repeating these slogans they give them real strength,” said Ska Keller, the sponsored candidate of the European Green Party for Commission President. “We need to stand up to their rhetoric… taking our democracy and using it as we should not allow.” Le Pen remains the most popularized figure of the Far Right, though even they still cannot a continent wide formation of a EuroRight Movement.
Government leaders are still playing the game as well, resorting to protectionism or maintaining their distance from Union. Hungary’s Victor Orban resorted to protectionist policies after his policy of economic enrichment through joining the Eurozone failed. His domestic policies aside, he has retained his presidency through consistent changes int he Constitution and disengaging from the EU’s own policies about democratization of the press and other essential democratic institutions. Orban’s rebuking of the EU may be seen as a rallying point by smaller and more vulnerable states to pursue leaving the EU. Hungary has thus become a sore point for the EU’s ability to enforce its own values and treaties, fuel for eurosceptics’ fears of a Europe that has lost touch with Europeans and infringing on national values.
In the context the times, the 2014 Euro Election will mark the first occasion where EuroSkeptic groups will control nearly 71 seats (25%) in the European Parliament, according to the Telegraph. Martin Schulz (EPP) expressed his need to hear proposals and extremists skeptics have no solutions. These skeptics have manifested their strength through preaching a language of nationalism, xenophobia, and protectionism. “Many people don’t take the Euro Parliament seriously,” said Schulz, who said such attitudes lead to groups, like the Nazi Party, being an elected participant in EU policies. Guy Verhofstedt (ALDE) emphasized the no-solution stance, saying states cannot just hide behind borders to escape the issues.
The major factor in the growth of the EuroRight is the lack any leader to unify the far right parties and eurosceptic leaders into a singular force. They are reduced to advocating at national level and below, where their interests remain local. That may change as more Eurosceptics get elected to the Parliament and they become more coordinated. While leaders like Le Pen and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands show potential, and are drawing more populist groups into the alliance. this alliance will not be strong enough if either the three major parties (EPP, ALDE or SLP) or the Greens form a coalition to govern. Though real political power lies with the national governments on the most important questions, this may have strong implications for the Parliament and Commission’s ability to address the economic crisis.
A reality of governance is that the Far Right may demonstrate the first beginnings of popular, loyal opposition to the EU, especially if it continues this movement towards democratization and integration. However, it may also be observed to be just another part of the process by which we create effective democracy. the next president and the various national leaders should be careful about empowering the Far Right, but also excluding them if their movement gets larger. Keller’s strongest point when addressing the Far Right was the need to stand up to them, while others shy away. Standing up to them maybe the strongest weapon to disarm them.
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