It’s never good news when the European far-right gets internationalist, and the announcement that Marine Le Pen and Gert Wilders are planning to co-operate in next year’s European Parliament elections in an attempt to ‘fight this monster called Europe’ ought to raise alarm bells.
This is the first time the far-right has tried to collaborate within a European forum since the spectacular failure of the ‘Identity, Tradition Sovereignty’ (ITS) bloc in 2007.
A grouping of twenty far-right and extreme nationalist parties in the European Parliament, ITS attempted to build a coalition based on opposition to immigration, the EU constitution and Turkish EU membership. Its members included the French National Front, the Austrian Freedom Party, Alessandra Mussolini’s Social Alternative, and the Greater Romania Party.
Formed in January 2007, this coalition fell apart by the end of the year, when the virulently anti-Roma Greater Romania Party took offense at Alessandra Mussolini response to the murder of an Italian by a Romanian migrant that ‘ Breaking the law became a way of life for Romanians.’
Some may take comfort from this collapse and anticipate a similar outcome once Le Pen and Wilders begin their attempt to attract more support from other European parties from the same template, but such complacency would not be advisable. A lot of things have changed since 2007. The crisis has hammered country after country across the continent, and the damage has been compounded by the disastrous ‘austerity’ policies which the European Union and virtually every European government have supported.
Unemployment, falling wages and living standards, pauperisation, economic stagnation, cuts in public services and the effective abandonment of whole swathes of the population have fueled anger, despair and resentment towards governments and the European Union itself.
All this has compounded a generalized bitterness and alienation from the political process – and also from the project of European unity – in many countries, which has provided grist to the mill for the established far-right and a newer generation of anti-immigrant and/or anti-Muslim populists like Wilders and UKIP.
The crisis has also intensified the racist and xenophobic victimization and scapegoating of certain categories of immigrants and visible minorities such Roma or Muslims, providing an increasingly receptive audience to the poisonous ‘identity’ politics promulgated by the Le Pen, Wilders and Golden Dawn in Greece.
Of course there are differences within the broad political spectrum that could potentially include the far-right and anti-immigrant nativists like UKIP, but political success may iron out these points of conflict. Polls indicate that a quarter of French voters may vote for the National Front in next year’s elections. Wilder’ PVV is currently leading the Dutch polls, and would gain 32 seats if a general election were held, compared with the Socialist Party’s projected 24.
UKIP is also poised to make another surge in next year’s elections to match its national rise. In Greece Golden Dawn remains the third political party, despite the ongoing criminal investigation into its affairs by the Greek government.
In short, the momentum is currently with the far right, even if some of its members are likely to keep their distance from each other for the time being, and even if some appear to be more superficially reasonable in their opposition to immigration, multiculturalism, and the EU.
Such opposition pays lip service to the economic consequences of the crisis in the eurozone and ‘tyranny’ of the European Union, but it invariably draws its strength from the idea that the EU has failed to ‘control’ national borders – an accusation that completely ignores Europe’s ruthless immigration enforcement model that has had such tragic consequences for migrants and refugees – and has allowed the multicultural hordes to erode the national and cultural identities of its component parts.
Too many mainstream politicians, whether left-of-centre or centre-right have pandered to the right’s anti-immigrant agenda, and said or done things that have made it seem as if the far-right has a point.
Too many politicians have preferred to present immigration rather than anti-immigrationism as the problem in order to distract attention from their own failings and/or dip into the far-right trough in search of votes. Too many have preferred to present draconian anti-migrant legislation as a solution to racism and xenophobia, and compete with the right to demonstrate their ‘toughness’ in ‘protecting our borders.’
It might be Labour, which supported Theresa May’s vicious Immigration Bill. It might be Hollande, who recently expelled a Roma schoolgirl and her family and then pathetically offered to allow the girl back into the country on condition that her family stayed.
Such gestures will not take us anywhere. In disgracing their own parties they also legitimize the worst sentiments of the population and pave the way for their own irrelevance. Too many left-of-centre governments were in power before the crisis and backed the policies that made it possible, and many have been complicit in the brutalist ‘remedies’ proposed by Europe’s financial and political elites, or unable to propose any viable alternatives to them.
If we are to prevent Europe from slipping back towards its very recent political dark ages, we need to halt this momentum – and construct a different kind of left. We need to build a European-wide movement that embraces the concept of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society that so many countries have become; that stands up for the rights of migrants rather than constantly looking for ways to reduce and restrict them; that challenges the disastrous economic model which is being enforced on the continent; that can mobilize the continent and put the far-right back in its box.
We need to develop European unity that reflects the ‘idealist’ components of the European project, rather than the dictats of speculators and bankers. Because as flawed as it is, the European Union provides a forum which the left could turn to its own advantage, and even the ‘monster’ is preferable to the Europe that Marine Le Pen and Gert Wilders would like us all to live in.