Image source: euobserver.com
I believe it to be a wide spread misconception that the European project might be under threat because of the rise of nationalism in certain countries of the European Union (EU). Surely, democracy is all about everyone having a say, even those whom the mainstream considers to be too radical. It is precisely this freedom of speech that has formed the basis of the democracy we now know and so dearly cherish. Having Golden Dawn in the European Parliament (EP) is the strongest sign yet of how democratic this political establishment is.
The danger these radical parties pose lies somewhere else, namely in how national governments and the European political elite chooses to respond to these voices. We might be in for a very interesting ride, if the rising disillusion and growing concern of the citizens of EU is treated in a similarly uninspired fashion as the Euro crisis was. One could argue that a monetary and economic crisis has far clearer signs than a social and political crisis. I would argue differently.
The pan-European alliance of far-right parties, possibly the newest alliance of the EP family, is the most distinctive and clear sign that the actual policies are wrong, the economic crisis was mishandled and that our leaders are out of touch with current European sentiment. The current political and social crisis might be the worst the EU has seen since it has come into existence. Never have so many people favoured nationalistic rhetoric and turned against the EU as during the latest European Parliament (EP) elections. Never has the anti-EU tide been as high as it currently is in a number of EU countries, e.g. UK, Hungary, and France not to mention Greece. Never have our mainstream politicians been so helpless and never have political opportunists been so eager to ride this anti-EU sentiment to their own benefit.
Add to the equation that the spectrum of voters that favour radical nationalism has widened to the extent that it now includes people from all social classes. In Greece, the neo-Nazi gathering called Golden Dawn is drawing in votes from the well educated and widely travelled middle class of Greek society. Similarly, in Hungary the extreme right wing party called Jobbik is increasingly winning votes not only from the rural areas but from major cities as well. Nationalistic rhetoric usually targets the working class of society. That is how it has always been, that is how it should remain. When lawyers, economists and doctors give in to the politics of hate and destruction that is when the EU is in big trouble. That is the time when mainstream politicians should shift into crisis mode and do a much better job and explaining to people who they are, why they are there and why does this entire establishment benefit Kovacs Janos, a 43 year old farmer living in Karcag, Hungary.
It is my firm conviction that the key to solving this crisis lies in a much better representation of all the benefits the EU has to offer. The EU has suffered and is suffering of misrepresentation and bad PR. Kovacs Janos and many more see the EU as an elite group that benefits the few to the detriment of the many. When the EU gives, nation states take the credit but when the EU does not give the EU takes the blame. As long as the arguments of people like Nigel Farage and Nikolaos Michaloliakos are not dismantled in a similarly effective and clear manner as their attempt to discredit the EU, EU scepticism will run rampant, and that is something we cannot afford. I for one am happy the EU sceptics have gotten more attention, I salute the fact that radical nationalist, even neo-Nazi, parties are members of the EP and I am most certainly looking forward to the reaction our mainstream European politicians will have to this. The EU needed a wakeup call and it needed to be pushed to pursue reform and the latest EP elections provide the perfect platform for that. Let’s hope this time the response from Brussels and from our national governments will be more inspired than during the economic crisis.
Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.