United in hatred
This summer, the leader of the Dutch extreme-right PVV party Geert Wilders toured Europe in order to create a political platform of extreme-right groups in view of the 2014 European elections. In September, he met Marine Le Pen (leader of the extreme-right French National Front, FN), who said “maybe we should campaign together. It is important that voters see we are not isolated, that in all European countries, there are comparable active patriotic movements.” Mr. Wilders also met with the Belgian Vlaams Belang, the Austrian FPO, the Swedish Social-Democrats and the Italian Northern League. However, he refused to meet the Hungarian Jobbik or the British National Party (BNP), whom he considers as “extremist and racist”. That is quite ironic coming from a man who said the Coran was similar to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
It is not the first time that European extreme-right parties try to unite: in the late 1980s, extreme-right MEPs created the Group of European Rights, chaired by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Due to a profound lack of cohesion and fading domestic support, the group did not survive the 1994 European elections. Substantial ideological disagreements have regularly undermined the unity of the European far right. These parties’ main concern could be summarised as, “what do you hate most?” This is where things become more complicated: they know they all hate the EU and Islam (although Mrs. Le Pen says she hates it less than others do), they hate immigrants (but not as much as the BNP), and some secretly hate the Jews but manage to keep that hatred silent most of the time. How ironic it is to witness increased supranational political cooperation between political groups who despise… increased supranational political cooperation. Even Neo-Nazi groups who do not take part in elections are starting to collaborate across borders: earlier this year the English Defence League participated in a gathering of French extreme-right group Bloc Identitaire.
This time it could be different
The most vocal group in the European Parliament is currently “Europe of Freedom and Democracy”, chaired by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who already made it clear he would not join Wilders’ alliance and who said, "UKIP is not right-wing but a Libertarian party which believes in small government, low taxes, personal freedom and responsibility under a democratic national government, not under Brussels rule.” These economic policies are completely antithetic to, say, Marine Le Pen’s crypto-socialist statist approach – except for the Brussels hatred. The Swedish Eurosceptic Democrats said they haven’t joined so far and are waiting to see which parties will take part. The Italian Northern League made a similar response.
But despite such disunity, 2014 could be different. Whether strongly or loosely allied, all these extreme-right parties will seek to take advantage from the recession and the reduced credibility of mainstream parties by proposing simplistic answers and blaming target groups, the preferred candidates being immigrants, Muslims, Eurocrats, bankers, and mainstream political parties. With unemployment in Europe stagnating at 12%, all European policy-makers have in mind the political consequences of the 1930s Great Depression.
No, it is not too late
The current public debate takes it as granted that extremist parties will win the lion’s share of votes in May 2014, thereby supporting the views of Farage’s UKIP and Le Pen’s FN that their parties will come first in the elections. It would be foolish and disastrous for mainstream political parties to take their defeat as granted, and not to fight this political battle. They have never fought European elections as intensely as national elections, as if these mattered less and were simply a way to test voters’ mood before the next national elections. The current crisis has shown how important Europe has become in our day-to-day lives, and for good. The Eurosceptics’ main argument consists in saying we can still have peace and prosperity in Europe, but with fully sovereign nations. This over-simplistic approach is underpinned by profound historical amnesia: Europe is well placed to know the cost of non-cooperation. The European Union certainly needs reform, but clearly not in this direction. It is now for mainstream parties to put forward their proposals: let the political battle begin!