European Union from Scratch


 


 

Cultural counter-revolution in the European Union is becoming more and more possible. Although right-wing parties don't have everything in common.

In the run-up to the European Parliament elections, it is apparent that there are two opposing camps within the EU. On the one side, there is the left-wing, the liberals and the centre-right, who in the face of the shrinking faction of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the European People's Party (EPP) in the future European Parliament, are intending to act jointly in a manner previously typical of exclusively S&D socialists and Christian Democrats from EPP. On the other hand, parties such as the Polish Law and Justice party and the Hungarian Fidesz, which the supporters of the United States of Europe consider to be Eurosceptic right-wing populists (also referred to as the “far-right” by the leftists) – similarly to the Italian Northern League, the French National Rally (RN), etc. – propose a different Union in which the nation states would have a greater say in the spirit of the principle of subsidiarity laid down in the Lisbon Treaty. If the polls are to be believed, socialists and people’s party members will indeed need liberals from the ALDE Group, led by the progressive federalist Guy Verhofstadt, to secure a majority. All three factions in their majority support the European Commission’s action against Poland and Hungary and are pursuing the gradual federalisation of the European Union using various means, for example, through a compulsory relocation mechanism for illegal immigrants or, more recently, by attempting to introduce a new mechanism aimed at linking European funds to an assessment of compliance with the rule of law and “European values” by the Member States. Frans Timmermans and Manfred Weber, the respective candidates of S&D and EPP for the future President of the European Commission, are in favour of a mechanism that would give the Commission a new powerful tool of putting pressure on national governments. In mid-January, the European Parliament adopted this particular mechanism (the Polish MPs of the Democratic Left Alliance, the Labour Union and the Polish People’s Party abstained, the MPs of the Civic Platform voted in favour, while the MPs of the Law and Justice party voted against this move). However, this still must be approved by the Council, which may prove slightly more challenging. The problem is that linking funds to the assessment of the rule of law is the surest way to deepen divisions and multiply conflicts between Brussels and the Member States, as well as between the governments of individual EU countries. In simple terms, the federalist tendencies of EU Commissioners and some national leaders, headed by the French President Emmanuel Macron, could lead to the rupture of the European Union from within or at least to its further weakening, which we already witnessed in the past decade (see the Greek crisis, the euro crisis, the migration crisis, and the issues normally reserved for the Member States, etc.).

Union of nations

In the Union desired by the Law and Justice party and Fidesz, the EU institutions would only operate in areas where the current European treaties give them competencies, and in the face of the ongoing abuses of the European institutions, the best solution would be a reform of the treaties in order to restore the former shape of the European Union as a Europe of nations. At the same time, in the western part of the continent, the evolution of parties previously regarded as anti-EU, and currently also deemed to be right-wing “populists”, means that they can be considered as potential allies. As a result, recently there have been many meetings: between Matteo Salvini from Italy and Viktor Orbán from Hungary in Milan and Jarosław Kaczyński in Warsaw, and Jarosław Kaczyński with Santiago Abascal from Spain representing Vox, and with the leader of Italian nationalists (allied with the Salvini's Northern League at the local government level), Giorgia Meloni. Salvini, with the support of the Marine Le Pen from France, is trying to create a broad European alliance of supporters of the Europe of nations, with the ultimate goal of potentially including the Law and Justice party and Fidesz. An important step towards this goal took the form of the conference convened on 8 April by Salvini in Milan, with the participation of representatives of three right-wing factions in the European Parliament: ENF (which includes the Italian Northern League, the French RN and the Austrian FPÖ), EFDD currently led by Nigel Farage from Great Britain (which list a German AfD MP among its members) and ECR, which comprises mostly the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party members and British Tories. A meeting under the slogan: “Towards a common sense Europe” was held without the participation of PiS, whose ECR faction was represented by the Finns Party (otherwise known as True Finns) and the Danish People's Party. Both Salvini and Le Pen have recently emphasised that they look forward to working with Law and Justice and Fidesz to defend the concept of the Europe of the nations and to stop the ambitions of Brussels. Le Pen even claims to have abandoned the Frexit postulate as a result of the rise to power of political movements that share the vision of her party in Hungary, Poland, Austria and Italy. According to Le Pen, currently there is a possibility of reforming the European Union. The leader of the French National Rally discussed this cooperation in the European Parliament in an interview for “Gazeta Wyborcza” published on 20 April:

“I would like us to be a unified group, because then we will be influential in the European Parliament. It is in our interest to move in this direction. Poles from Law and Justice and Hungarians from Fidesz should belong to our faction, but I know that this is task is not easy.”

Leave or reform

It is common knowledge that one of the main obstacles is the attitude of the RN towards Russia and Vladimir Putin. The same reason was quoted by the Italian press in relation to Salvini, when explaining the lack of the representatives of the Law and Justice party on 8 April in Milan. The same can be said about the Austrian FPÖ and the German AfD. It is worth noting, however, that neither Salvini nor Le Pen call for their country's exit from NATO (in her presidential programme in 2017, Le Pen only called for a return to a situation from before the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, when France was not a part of NATO Military Command Structure on the decision of de Gaulle) and both leaders consider the USA to be a key ally. Their attitude towards Russia is not very different from that of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz, or even from that of the Italian or French centre-right or at least part of it. If the Law and Justice party can cooperate with Fidesz on the European forum despite its different attitude towards Russia, cooperation with the Northern League and the National Rally should also be possible, provided that the objectives of these parties in Brussels are not contrary to the European vision of Warsaw and Budapest. In short, PiS and Fidesz can only find common ground with political movements that are not seeking to dissolve the European Union or for their countries to leave the EU. Such movements today include the Italian Northern League, the French RN, the Austrian FPÖ, the Spanish Vox and the German AfD. Admittedly, the Northern League, the RN and the AfD do not rule out the possibility of leaving the Union, but today they consider this option only as a final solution in the event that the reform of the Union from within is not possible. A return to national currencies (in the case of the Northern League and RN) which could possibly coexist alongside the euro (which was also advocated in Italy before the last parliamentary elections by the centre-right Forza Italia of the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) is considered or even openly called for (in the case of AfD). This is a significant difference compared to the Dutch PVV party headed by Geert Wilders or the Dutch Forum for Democracy run by Thierry Baudet, which was established as late as in 2016 and overtook all other Dutch parties in this year’s local government elections, with the support of 14.5% (versus 7% for PVV): these two parties support the Netherlands’ direct exit from the EU. Moreover, in its election campaign to the European Parliament, the French RN calls for the abolition of the European Commission, while the German AfD wants the European Parliament to be disbanded. These ideas may prove incompatible with the outlook of Law and Justice or Fidesz. Although it should also be highlighted that quite recently the Sweden Democrats, conscious of the difficulties in negotiating Brexit conditions, suspended their own proposal for a referendum to be held on Sweden leaving the EU, while in the European Parliament they were a part of the same ECR faction as PiS.

Without a majority

Nonetheless, divisions and contrasting visions of the European Union could very much weaken the influence of the “populists” in the future European Parliament and the Council. Even if the right-wing populists were to gain a majority in both bodies, which would also affect the composition of the European Commission, this might not be enough to save the European Union from its further weakening and possible disintegration. According to the polls, they will not have such a majority anyway, although they may have more numerous representations than previously. The most optimistic forecasts give less than a quarter of the seats to parties comprising the ECR, EFDD and ENF factions. Even if the British take part in these elections – and it seems that the new Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party could win – it would be difficult to expect that they would be busy with anything other than Brexit. However, it will be more difficult for those in favour of imposing sanctions on Poland and Hungary to collect the necessary two-thirds of the votes needed, even if they again decide to resort to a solution that is openly abusive, as was the case when the matter of Hungary was voted on in September 2018, when the abstentions were excluded from the calculation of the result of the vote.

It will, therefore, be more difficult in the European Parliament for supporters of the federalisation of the EU and the imposition of the left-wing liberal viewpoint and the obligation to admit illegal immigrants to all Member States, even if they listen attentively to the appeal of the socialist Frans Timmermans. The Euractiv portal on 9 April proposed that all the progressives in the future European Parliament, including the extreme left and the Greens, should stand firm against the "extreme right" because, as he put it, “it has a contrasting vision of humanity and society”. Indeed, parties such as Vox, the Northern League, FPÖ, RN and AfD, the Danish People's Party, Sweden Democrats or even the Finns Party are relatively conservative and family-focused (when compared to their domestic competition), committed to Christian or traditional values and the matter of national identity, similarly to PiS and Fidesz. They are all opposed to mass immigration and praise the position of the Visegrád Group on illegal immigration and the relocation of immigrants. It is unlikely that the ideas put forward by Salvini and Orbán about the EPP centre-right alliance with the right-wing “populists” will come true. After the meeting, held in Budapest on 6 May, between the former Vice-Chancellor of Austria Heinz-Christian Strache representing the FPÖ and the Hungarian Prime Minister, at a joint press conference Orbán again called for an extensive coalition of the right and centre-right in the European Parliament along the lines of the Austrian FPÖ “populist” coalition with the centre-right ÖVP led by the Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz. A similar opinion was expressed by the head of the centre-right Italian party Forza Italia, which belongs to the EPP and from which the current President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, originates. In an interview published on 12 May in “La Stampa”, Silvio Berlusconi stated that the time had come to step back from the alliance with the left that replaced the Europe of nations with a Europe of bureaucrats. Instead, “the EPP should move closer to liberals, conservatives and the so-called populists” according to Berlusconi, whose party maintains alliances with the Northern League and the nationalists at the local government level in Italy. However, even if such a coalition does come to fruition, and even if we assume that the “populist” parties in the future European Parliament will only be able to prevent the left-wing liberal majority from increasing their say in individual countries more effectively than they have been to date, it is likely that in the long run they will block the federalist plans of people like Emmanuel Macron, Frans Timmermans and Guy Verhofstadt, and lead to limiting excessive intrusions by the European Commission, thus protecting the European Union from more frequent and more severe disputes and possible disintegration. And so, in Italy, everything points to the fact that the Northern League will dominate the political landscape for a considerable period of time, while enjoying solid support at 30-35%. It can count on the fact that if the coalition of the left-wing populists with the Five Star Movement falls apart, the Northern League will lead the right-wing coalition after the early elections. According to surveys in France, the RN's Marine Le Pen has for many months been consolidating its position as the main opposition to President Macron and his left-wing liberal party. The RN may even win the European elections in May. The ratings of the president and his government, after a momentary upsurge over the successful communication surrounding the “great national debate”, are again spiralling down in response to the “yellow vests” protests. In Germany, Angela Merkel, who immediately rejected Viktor Orbán's proposal to ally the EPP with the right-wing “populists”, is only staying in power herself thanks to a new, large coalition of the centre-right and the social democrats. Thus, AfD became the main opposition force in parliament. In both countries (France and Germany), this situation puts a lot of pressure on those in power, especially as most of society is dominated by moderately Eurosceptic and clearly anti-immigrant views. In Austria and Denmark, however, the rise of the populist right, or FPÖ, which is a member of the ENF faction together with the Northern League and the RN, as well as the Danish People's Party, which is a member of the ECR together with PiS, has led to these countries opposing immigration policy and the federalist tendencies of Brussels in the last few years. Differences in business – It is probable that the composition of the European Parliament will indeed change. This is also a great opportunity for our country – said Jarosław Kaczyński at the end of April during the PiS election meeting. The 12-point declaration of the European United Right, announced at the beginning of March, talks about the European Union's return to the values “which were proclaimed by its creators and which were to become its foundation”. There is also talk of defending the family, protecting the external borders of the EU, and the need to “eliminate double standards in the treatment of countries within the European Union”. These are areas where the Law and Justice party is much closer to the right-wing “populists” than to the Western European mainstream. This could be different in issues such as the “equal treatment of Polish companies on the European market”, for example in the context of employee secondment, or the “strong cohesion policy as the basis for rapid and unified development of the EU”. The parties defending the idea of Europe of nations have the advantage of openly defending national interests, and the national interests of individual countries do not have to converge. However, the majority of the so-called populists agree on the following: the European Union is needed, but it must remain European and democratic, which is only possible if Christian values are maintained as a common denominator of Europeanness, national identities are nurtured, and external borders are defended and if, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, as many decisions as possible are taken by national governments and parliaments. The cultural counter-revolution in the European Union, announced by Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński in 2016 in Krynica, is, therefore, becoming more and more likely. Without such a counter-revolution, not only the European Union but also European civilisation itself, will be threatened because, as the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in 2015 – “it will not be possible to withdraw from multicultural Europe to return to Christian Europe or to the world of national cultures.”

 

 

Olivier Bault 

 DoRzeczy nr 21/2019