Opinion

Mark Leonard

Europe’s self-hating parliament

By Mark Leonard
November 19, 2013

Some are talking about the alliance last week of France’s national front leader Marine Le Pen and the Dutch populist Geert Wilders as a European Tea Party. Whether or not these two are functioning as Europe’s answer to Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, their anti-EU policies are aimed at forming a broader alliance with parties in other member states.

The Euroskeptic bloc could be more damaging than the Tea Party. Tea Partiers are keen to get government out of peoples’ lives, but they don’t oppose the very existence of the union or of U.S. Congress. The Euroskeptics do not support the existence of the EU and by extension they oppose the European Parliament, into which they are seeking election. If, as polls predict, Euroskeptics emerge with strong support, we may see a “self-hating Parliament” that ultimately wants to secure its own abolition.

Le Pen and Wilders describe the alliance as the “start of the liberation of Europe from the monster of Brussels”. The European Parliament has the power to block the appointment of the European Commission (the EU’s main executive body), to veto the majority of European legislation, to block the signature of international treaties and trade agreements and even to hold up the EU’s annual budget.

There is some doubt about the seriousness of the Euroskeptic movement. International affairs analyst Cas Mudde, in a recent piece for the Washington Post, argued that talk of an EU legislative shutdown is overblown. Using the most recent national election results as a guide, Mudde predicts that Euroskeptic parties of left and right will win a mere 15 percent of the total seats.

There are reasons to doubt Mudde’s use of electoral results in general elections to predict European elections. European Union elections do not result in the election of a government. For most voters, the elections are a poll without consequence; a chance to vent their grievances. Opinion surveys give a different answer – showing Euroskeptic parties potentially topping the polls for the elections in many of Europe’s bigger member states. Le Pen promises to do well in France, the UK Independence Party in the UK, Wilders in the Netherlands, Beppe Grillo¹s 5-Star Movement in Italy, and leftist Syriza in Greece. Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, which narrowly failed to get a seat in the national parliament, might end up in double digits in the European poll.

The surge of Euroskeptic parties has hardened the approach of previously mainstream parties on the European issue. It is hard to distinguish between the policy positions of the British Conservative Party or the Polish Law and Justice Party (PIS) from UK Independence Party. The UKIP leader Nigel Farage said to me in a telephone interview that his goal is as much to change the position of mainstream parties as to win power himself:  “The success or failure of UKIP is in the hands of the other parties,” he said. “If, for example, the Labour and Conservative parties came to those positions, the electoral appeal of UKIP will diminish. But UKIP would… have changed the political agenda.”

The other point in Mudde’s Washington Post piece is that the Euroskeptic parties are divided among themselves. Wilders and Le Pen may talk about uniting, however, leaders like Farage, as well as parties like The Finns and Alternative für Deutschland, have succeeded in breaking the link between themselves and the Neo-Nazi movements of the far-right.

Farage stresses his ideological differences with Le Pen’s National Front. However, he does not rule out the idea of tactical cooperation. In our interview he said, “The big [prize] would be the ability of the European Parliament to reject the European Commission. If the Parliament said, ‘we reject this commission because they believe in ever closer union,’ it would be huge.  Given the way the EU is constructed, the Parliament could effectively bring the whole project into chaos if it wanted to.”

Even more dangerous to the EU project is the way that the mainstream parties will unite to fight a strong anti-European caucus. In order to face down the Euroskeptics, there is a danger that social democrats and liberals in the European Parliament will huddle in a “Europe Cartel” – thereby losing the ability to articulate real differences about the future direction of Europe. This would create a situation where the main political cleavages in Europe are between pro-European elite and Euroskeptic populists, rather than between left-wing and right-wing visions of Europe.

Euroskeptics claim that the EU is a project pursued by out-of-touch elites at the expense of the citizens. There is now a danger that the pro-European parties will prove them right. Just look at Austria, Finland, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany and you will find the old “mainstream” parties huddling together in pro-European coalitions.  Their goal is admirable, to save the euro, but the effect has been that parliamentary majorities suck the political life out of Europe rather than use political arguments to defeat the Euroskeptics.

The result may be that the traditional dynamic at the core of European integration is turned on its head. In the past, it was assumed that Brussels was the capital of technocracy and bureaucracy, while the national sphere was rife with politics and populism. With the European elections, the game will be reversed.  Brussels will become a playground for populists – with the European Commission living in fear of the destroyers in the European Parliament – while the European Council of heads of state and government is run by a “Europe Cartel.” The danger is that a self-hating parliament will not only undermine the EU – it could sap the legitimacy of national politics as well.

PHOTO: Netherland’s anti-Islamic party leader Geert Wilders (R) shows The House of Representatives to far-right leader Marine Le Pen of France in The Hague, Netherlands, November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos

Comments
4 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“Tea Partiers are keen to get government out of peoples’ lives, but they don’t oppose the very existence of the union or of U.S. Congress.”

I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Once the Tea Partiers are disabused of the fantasy that ordinary Americans share their sentiments, I imagine they’ll be calling for secession very soon after.

Posted by delta5297 | Report as abusive
 

Nice try Mark, but I caught you and I’m calling b.s. In a sly, indirect, and dishonest way, you’re trying to smear the Tea Party, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin by associating them with Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders…most well-known in Europe for their truly, publicly, overtly racist platforms…also Euroskeptics and nationalists yes…but openly declared racism is their lead draw card and is in stark contrast to these decent Americans you’re smearing. Most Americans haven’t lived in France or the Netherlands and wouldn’t know what you’re up to. The Tea Party defines itself foremost by fiscal conservatism, not racism or nationalism like the Le Pen’s or Geert Wilders. B.S. Mark.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive
 

It’s not just the Netherlands and France.

I’m guessing what’s happening in AMERICAN politics is similar to what’s happening in the Netherlands and France and other advanced nations like England and Germany, and it is this:

The LEFT is normally for the COMMON WORKER citizens, and the RIGHT is for the WEALTHY, big business and the establishment. That is well known. But in this current era of massive globalization and unprecedented massive immigration, things are being twisted askew.

How are they askew?

This is how: The left, normally for the common citizens, now supports the massive immigration, which directly hurts the COMMON CITIZEN, because immigration drives down wage rates and drives up rents, and destroys the middle class.

The RIGHT, still for the wealthy, is also, as always, in favor of massive immigration because of its effects, i.e., because immigration drives down wage rates and drives up rents, and makes the wealthy even wealthier.

So now, in France, Great Britain and the United States, we see the same phenomenon happening: The LEFT is for immigration, and thus is against the COMMON CITIZENS. The BIG BUSINESS RIGHT, as always, is for immigration, and, as always, is against the common people citizens.

Thus that leaves nobody representing the common people citizens against the gigantic waves of immigrants flooding into these advanced nations on an unprecedented scale.

The only people taking a stand FOR the common citizen AGAINST his utter destruction by the flood of immigration are the far-right minor organizations like the fast-growing UKIPs, United Kingdom Independent Party in Great Britain.

In America it is the Tea Party.

I know of no left-leaning party or organization in any of these countries that is NOT pro-immigration. It is as if the left has completely forsaken the working middle class citizen, and instead woos and encourages the massive waves of immigrants who are destroying the middle class.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive
 

You can’t compare the US to the EU without recognising that in the US the Fed is subservient to the states whilst in the EU the States are subservient to the EU.

Posted by Chris122 | Report as abusive
 

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