On the euro-elections results (2014)

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Feelings are mixed regarding the results of the European elections. So far the center-right coalition, the European People’s Party (EPP) comes first, occupying in total 213 seats, whilst the center-left Social Democrats (PES) stands in opposition (191 seats). In the third place are the Liberal Democrats (ALDE) with 64 seats, followed by the Coalition of the Greens with 53, and the Conservative Reformists (AECR) with 46 (a number expected to increase, if the anti-euro, Alternative For Germany AFD, joins). Finally, the European Left (GUE/NGL) won 42 seats and the right-wing coalition Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) 38, while in total 104 MEPs come from unregistered parties (they are either newly elected members not allied to any of the political groups set up in the outgoing Parliament or even members not affiliated with any current group: from far-right and Nazi parties – such as Golden Dawn, the National Democratic Party of Germany and the British National Party, which has now disappeared from the electoral map – or secessionist/separatist and usually leftist factions, such as the Basque Party, formerly belonging to the European Free Alliance group, also centrist organizations like the Greek River, the Spanish anti-nationalist and pro-European UPyD, the Czech liberal ANO, the Dutch Party for the Animals – PvDD etc).

Although there is a lot of talk regarding the far-righ eurosceptic ‘earthquake’, others emphasize on the low turnout (in some countries like Britain abstention is nearly 60%). The victory of SYRIZA – which leaves behind New Democracy – is also being discussed in the international press, as the triumph of the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage’s right-wing populist United Kingdom Independence party. Meanwhile, right-wing populist majorities also come from Denmark with the Dansk Folkeparti giving 4 MEPs (26%) whilst similar parties in Sweden, Austria, Finland and Belgium increased their percentages. In the Netherlands, nonetheless, Geert Wilders came fourth with 12,2% which is considered a big loss in comparison with 2009, where his party scored second (17%). Le Pen’s NF (just like the Swedish Democrats, the Belgian Nationalists, or its Dutch and Austrians counterparts) might seek a new alliance as it did not come into agreement with the leader of the EFD, Nigel Farage. Right now FN (like the Swedish and Austrian similar groups) remains unregistered; this practically means that the total number of far-right/right-wing MEPs exceeds the 80.

Many consider the rise of the right as a protest-vote, while others attribute it to the large abstention rates. What is, however, the truth? We know that the Euro elections were always a kind of soft vote for many European citizens, an opportunity to express their disagreement with the direction of European Union where all powers are concentrated in oligarchic institutions, while the voices of citizens are systematically ignored; we have seen the vulgar refusal of many Euro leaders to accept the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. We have paid the consequences of their obsession with the unpopular and devastating austerity programmes and their overt intervention in the internal affairs of Greece where George Papandreou – an elected MP – after proposing public referendum for the implementation of austerity measures was replaced overnight by an unelected technocrat – as in the case of the Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi – aiming to the implementation of heavy austerity budgets. We cannot also ignore that during the pre-election era of 2012 (in Greece) blackmailing – directed from Germany – prevailed in the media, aiming to convince the Greek public to vote in favour of pro-EU parties that will secure the continuance of the same unpopular policies of privitization. Undoubtedly all these events triggered eurosceptic reactions whilst abomination for the derailed european vision has led millions to despair.

Nonetheless, it would sound superficial and frivolous to attribute the far-right tsunami solely on the arbitrariness of eurocrats and the cynical treatment of countries by the forces of the European Central Bank. In fact, most of the far-right eurosceptic (and anti-EU) parties come from regions that have much less been affected by austerity than the exhausted southern countries which insist on supporting pro-European alliances, or instead of investing in the predictable anti-EU rhetoric welcomed soft eurosceptic groups (mainly left-wing parties, which although they sharply criticize EU’s policies, do not embrace the idea for returning to the old Europe of nation-states). In Italy the major protest party (which appears among the non-registered groups) of Pepe Grillo came second; it is big tent party that aims to bring together leftists, disappointed Social Democrats, anarchocommunists, hipsters, conspiracy theorists, conservatives, anarchocapitalists, and even former right-wing supporters of the Northern League whose percentages dropped to 6%. It is a populist force which, unlikely the far-right factions, does not support the withdrawal of Italy form the EU, but rather referendum for the drop of euro.

As aforementioned, pro-European centrist forces prevailed massively in Spain and Portugal, whilst the left (in both countries) made significant gains. In Spain the equivalent to SYRIZA La Izquierda Plural won the 10% of the total votes, but at the same time a new promising force appears – the Podemos party -, a coalition of leftist academics, citizens and organizers of the 15M movement which is probably likeliest to join the European Greens or the European United Left, increasing the total GUE/NGL seats from 42 to 47 (and finally the Italian Altra Europa con Tsipras –  a left-wing electoral list in support of Alexis Tsipras – is expected to give 3 additional seats to the leftist coalition). A considerable increase of the left is seen in Ireland, where the Sinn Fein (a party broadly supportive of migrant’s rights and same-sex couples, proposing at the same time a health service along the model of the British NHS, but at certain times has become quasi anti-Semitic, mainly regarding the Palestinian question) comes third with 17% (3 seats in total). Therefore, the claim that right-wing Euroscepticism is a tout court reaction to the arbitrariness of EU institutions is partially inaccurate, since in the countries of the eurozone periphery (which are more severely affected by EU’s arbitrary powers than the affluent north) no sign of far-right victory has been recorded[2]. How can, therefore, this so called “far right tsunami” be explained?

Before we arrive to a concrete conclusion, it would be crucial to take into account two important factors: a) the high percentage of abstention, which makes the interpretation of the results a difficult task (ie does Le Pen’s victory reflect a far-right tendency within the French society, provided the low turnout 42%?). Although a right-turn in many European societies is undeniable, as support for the right-wing populist coalitions (even regarding the parliamentary elections) appears to have been doubled (according to official polling behaviour polls) within the past two years, this high rate of non-participation makes it difficult for us to understand whether these quantitative data can be acknowledged as a real reflection of the social prattein or not. Additionally, we should know that b) voters in many countries – especially in the north and probably the majority of the British public – during the euro-elections choose parties with different criteria than during the national elections. For example: no-one denies the gradual increase of support for UKIP (which promises complete exit from the European Union and strict quotas on the number of immigrants from European countries) in the last municipal election (which for many British is equally a chance for protest vote). But despite its strengthening it failed to win a council whilst for the upcoming national elections (UKIP) polls between 13-15 %, a rate significantly higher than two years ago, but it is still far from making it a leading party. Finally, the proportion of Britons who stand in favor of remaining in the Europen Union has been increased significantly comparing to last year’s polls, which more or less tells us that the so called UKIP ‘earthquake’ does noway represent the views of the whole population.

In fact the rise of the eurosceptic far-right has less to do with rejection of the EU as a whole. It mostly has to do with the expression a) of a generalized xenophobia in most of the rich countries of the north, where the majority demands an end to the right of free movement, especially from the countries of the South where unemployment is soaring (in fact it is an expression of individual privatization and apathy), a measure that could be implemented only if these countries pull out of the EU whose laws allow European citizens to settle in any member state. Also, b) these parties propose an end to financial help for the impoverished South; in fact, during the past four years the populist mass media and the tabloid press have been trying hard to misinform the European public that the bail outs for Spain, Portugal and (essentially) Greece are overwhelmingly spent to fund the easy-going lifestyle of the spoiled, lazy, irresponsible and incompetent southerners who desire to live at the expense of the hard-working tax-payers of the north.

In overall, such parties pose a major threat to fundamental rights, such as free movement – perhaps the most important institution for cooperation between European nations. Although it would be wrong to call them fascist or Nazi parties (this characterization is more appropriate for parties like Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Jobbik and the National Democratic Party of Germany – which also wins a seat) they are reactionary, national conservative populist groups, wishing to remove legislations that protect minorities, and the elimination of anti-racist laws, abolition of maternity leave, holiday and sick pay respectively. This, then, is one of the reasons their supporters despise the European Union, calling it a communist organization, due to their fanaticism with the doctrine of the self-regulating markets and their obsession with the anti-immigrant divisionist rhetoric.

Certainly the rise of both the populist extreme right and neo-Nazism denotes on one hand the failure of the left which invested in the passive attitude that “people deterministically will choose the left way for the overthrow of austerity programs” within a climate of widespread apathy and amoralism, and thus failed to tackle such catastrophic tendencies. On the other hand we cannot ignore the sociological and psychological factors underlying this issue: the fear that the unemployed from the south will invade the north is a par excellence key factor for the domination of social and individual introversion: in the eyes of the squeezed middle classes (which refuse to accept that their days of abundance are finished) the waves of migrants arriving in the north appear symbolically like an onslaught of poverty in their affluent and prosperous ivory tower. Thus, the illusion of living in a society fully secured from the turmoils of the outside world becomes a fragile vessel. Once the de-politicized mass-men see in the face of depersonalized and pauperized foreigners their own possible bleak future (that nobody wants to be reminded), instead of elucidating on the root of problem (that is lack of proper democracy), seeking for answers and solutions collectively, become easily a target of the isolationist propaganda of the right-wing demagogues.

Finally, another important question has to be answered: what chances the far-right has to pursue its own agenda? In a place dominated by pro-European coalitions – such as EPP, PSOE and ALDA (that at least, in regards to the issue of free movement between countries pose neither vetos nor do they radically disagree) – especially if one takes into account the percentages of Greens (who as surprised in Sweden came second) and the increase of the radical left that are overwhelmingly pro-human right groups – it seems a very difficult task for the eurosceptics to pass legislations in favour of their agenda, lesislations that remove fundamental European rights. But there is another possible scenario here: the prevalence of EPP also secures the continuation of austerity policies. These forces persist in the continuation of privatizations and cuts and here the far-right could play a catalytic role; the majority of these parties (with an exception of the Finns) call for zero public spending and the full privatization of the economy. The center-right would not hesitate to collaborate with them (as it happened in Greece after Papandreou was forced to resign, and the appointed technocrat in his position, Loukas Papademos, formed a new temporary coalition with New Democracy – the current ruling party – and the far-right LAOS, whose key members later on joined ND). In addition, their calls for zero tolerance on crime and lawlessness could easily strengthen the crackdown of anti-austerity movements through supporting new “anti-terrorist” laws.

Whatever our conclusions are, one thing is certain: we should avoid excessive pessimism or even optimism after seeing the results of the controversial left-wing victory of SYRIZA. Undeniably the far-right has gained momentum, but the Social Democratic group (which many chose as an antidote to austerity, ignoring that it was the center-left that begun the imposition of neoliberal reforms) recorded a better performance in comparison with the catastrophic outcome of 2009. We should not also ignore the increase of the seats for the non- registered coalitions, within which there are both progressive initiatives (such as the Swedish Feminist Initiative which won a seat), and Nazi monsters on the other hand. What we need to know of course is that austerity, racism and deprivation of rights earned through hard struggles cannot be successfully fought via the ballot box, nor we can place our hopes in centralized institutions such as parliaments and representative bodies, (like political parties that day after day become more and more bureaucratized). Only the spontaneous mobilization of the progressive elements of our societies can bring positive results. If we really aim at the social transformation, to a world of equality, justice and freedom (that is real democracy) if we intend to strengthen emancipatory imperatives instead of seeking for ephemeral solutions to such monstrous problems, then we cannot abandon our fortunes to the hands of such organizations. If we desire a democratic Europe, a Europe of friendship and equality, then we only have to get it in our hands. If our societies today wish to fight for a better future then no other choice exists apart from dynamically reclaim it through positive initiatives… or there will be no future left for us at all.

[1] During the elections in France, 18.49.000 people went to the polls – of which only 4,600,000 chose the National Front – whilst during the parliamentary elections of 2012 the party received 6,421,000 votes.

[2] Although Golden Dawn has increased its electorate support in Greece, the party does not advocate withdrawal from the European Union. Greece in fact is a sui generis case for the study of the European far-right; it would be controversial to associate the rise of GD with EU’s cynical stance, since in Greece traditionally – and for a variety of historical and political reasons – both hard and soft euroscepticisms are elements of the left, whilst the right was always in favour of the EU project.

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