“The Movement”, an empire of fear ready to descend on an apathetic EU?

, by Théo Boucart, Translated by Lorène Weber

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“The Movement”, an empire of fear ready to descend on an apathetic EU?
Steve Bannon, the return of the “populist dark angel”? Photo : Gage Skidmore - Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0

Steve Banon is back! After having flooded the United States with his populist speechees, which greatly contributed to Donald Trump’s victory, the guru of the conservative right now has big ambitions in Europe. Even though some of his ideas can seduce, can he establish himself on the political scene of the old continent?

The European elections are the embodiment of “European democracy” and an unmissable event for all the political parties in EU countries. The populist parties have fully understood this, and intend to be even more present in the European Parliament after May 2019. The polls seem to give a potential third place to the populist groups in terms of number of MEPs. Emmanuel Macron’s victory in May 2017 thus did not halt the rise of right-wing populism.

Would this somewhat dismal progression be about to accelerate even more? This is what Steve Bannon would want with “The Movement”, a sort of political think tank aspiring to unite the European right-wing populist movements to maximize their influence for the next term.

This organization will be based in the heart of Brussels and intend to provide the targeted formations with surveys, new ideas, language and communication materials… In short, reproduce in Europe what Bannon managed to do in the United States, because even after leaving the White House last year, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News multiplied the meetings with European populist leaders, from Matteo Salvini to Marine Le Pen and her niece.

One objective: destroying the European Union

The strategy of Steve Bannon’s “Movement” is simple: trying to create unity in right-wing populist forces for the 2019 European elections, in order to gain as many MEPs as possible, and then to begin undermining of the European Parliament, attempting to paralyze and kill it slowly.

To increase its power of action, Steven Bannon even created a cryptocurrency to ensure an independent financing from banks, which, according to him are part of the “establishment” he hates so much. As this initiative can lead to the creation of an empire of fear, Steve Bannon has a new occasion to impose himself as the “populist troublemaker”.

Bannon on conquered land… really?

If populism is riding high in Europe, one can wonder if Steve Bannon and “The Movement” can fully take advantage of it by reproducing the winning strategy of the United States. To tell the truth, it is far from obvious.

Indeed, European populisms differ from Steve Bannon’s doctrine on one fundamental thing: the role of the State. While the American troublemaker is a libertarian Reagan-admirer and consequently a partisan of a drastic reduction of the weight of the State, Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán or Marine Le Pen advocate, on the contrary, a strong State to protect against the misdeeds of globalisation or mass immigration.

The fight against immigration is actually the only idea that is likely to unite everyone. Nevertheless, would Steve Bannon want to focus on immigration only? Moreover, “uniting European populists” is something of an oxymoron: how would you unify political parties whose stock in trade is hatred of the other, and so by extension the other populist parties? Steve Bannon’s strategy is certainly a short-term one, and the construction of a new order after overthrowing the establishment in 2019 is quite unlikely.

A new attack against a debilitated EU

Steve Bannon will certainly not be the new “dark angel” of European populists, especially after May 2019. However, populism has a growing influence in Europe, with or without the American. Forgetting it would be a serious mistake for an apathetic European Union, hardly capable of reforming itself. The countries which are not ruled by populists, including France and Germany, have many difficulties in making progress on crucial issues for the Union’s durability.

Angela Merkel’s Germany has been weakened by the political deadlock following the elections in September, and instability still a threat, especially as the AfD takes advantage of the growing discontent of the German society and even of the beginning of an identity crisis. Emmanuel Macron, for his part, has difficulty in imposing his European voluntarism. Resistance is stronger and stronger, as Viktor Orbán recently proved. But once more, the pernicious initiative of Steve Bannon should not be overestimated.

Nevertheless, the populist danger is real. Nine months are left before the European electoral deadline, and it is too late to reverse the current populist upward trend for May 2019. Nonetheless, the European Union has to make its citizens and voters understand that it is a pole of stability in the middle of hostile powers such as the United States or Russia, and that populists have no purpose but destroying this precious stability.

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