A Heavy Hangover after the 2014 EP Elections

15. 3. 2017

We are coming,” says Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), and Co-Chair of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the European Parliament. As if to say that this is just his time, Farage comes up with the punch line directed straight to Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament: “Please don’t pretend that nothing has happened. You know perfectly well that it has. And the day is nigh when all your EU institutions will be plain dead. We are coming.” I am paraphrasing his phrase, yet I can vouch for its credibility and content.

So the message is clear—if we are to believe the most theatrical and eloquent political clown I have seen over the past five years that I spent as his fellow Member of the European Parliament (2009–2014)—that’s the beginning of the end for the EU. Needless to say, the news about the oncoming death of the EU is slightly exaggerated. Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals, and Greens will outweigh an increasingly visible minority of far right led by Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage. When the time comes, conventional and pro-European groups will easily achieve a decisive and crucial majority over pivotal issues of the EU.

Yet on one point we—willing or not—have to agree with Nigel Farage. The 2014 elections to the European Parliament did make a difference. We cannot pretend any longer that far right voices and Euro-skeptics are still a tiny minority that is easily to relegate to the margins of EU politics. The shocking victory of UKIP in the UK (27% of votes) coupled with the triumph of Le Front National (FN) in France (one fourth of all votes) and with genuine fascist parties, such as the Golden Dawn of Greece, and Jobbik of Hungary, the far right and anti-immigration parties, such as UKIP, FN, and Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, will make up quite a noisy minority of around 140 voices in the newly elected European Parliament.

First and foremost, these forces are not only strongly anti-EU oriented—they are essentially anti-European and overtly pro-Kremlin. One only has to recall how they praised Vladimir Putin up to the skies as a supposed defender of the conservative, family, traditional values, as it allowed Farage and Marine Le Pen to close ranks with Jobbik—a miserable and disgraceful alliance, to say the least. Even worse was the moment of self-exposure when Farage in one of his recent interviews went so far as to suggest that the two grave mistakes made by the EU were the adoption of Euro and the accession of Eastern European countries to the EU with all the social mobility and dignity they got (not being embarrassed anymore by Western European immigration officers with their intrusive questions and poorly concealed disdain for Eastern Europe, I would add).

Well, what can you say after this? First and foremost, not only do Poland or the Baltic States appear as the stronghold of Europe-oriented values as opposed to the pro-Kremlin and Putinesque farce of UKIP and FN; in this context, Ukraine and its anti-criminal revolution with the EU on the lips of Maidan protesters come as a powerful antidote against the political grotesque of populism in EU countries.

At the same time, it becomes increasingly obvious that the times when the Kremlin had its useful idiots in the West primarily among leftist intellectuals with all their misguided politics and self-imposed moral and political blindness are gone; instead, the new useful idiots of the Kremlin come straight from far right—these are people who choose to believe that Vladimir Putin is the hope of European neo-conservatism. I have already described elsewhere this phenomenon in terms of the new Fascist International with its headquarters in Moscow.

However tempting, we cannot reduce the entire analysis of the 2014 elections to the EP to a moral shock. True, it is something like a heavy hangover and a wake-up call for the EU, yet this is the right time to find the answer to the question: What happened?

What happened was easy to expect, especially in the light of a difficult rivalry between JeanClaude Juncker and Martin Schulz over the post of President of the European Commission where Juncker’s high profile of a confessed Federalist made it impossible for the UK to back him. Add to these domestic nuances the fight between British conservatives and UKIP (as the latter tries to fish in the same waters of British Euro-skepticism and exceptionalism), and you will have if not a cul-de-sac, then at least a difficult predicament of British politics.

Juncker may be blocked or strongly rejected by the UK, much in the same way once his rival Guy Verhofstadt, leader of ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), was blocked for the same sin: his overt federalism, which tells us something disturbing about the moral and political void of the EU, rather than the sheer triumph of Euroskeptics. Yes, the articulate, eloquent, ambitious, and dynamic Verhofstadt has many chances to become President of the European Parliament (I would bet on it), yet the maneuvering between the EU Council, as an intergovernmental club, and the EP, as the only democratically elected political institution of the EU, exposes the principal weakness of the Union: lack of vision, and the resulting reliance on technocratic, instead of democratic, recipes.

The 2014 elections should serve as a wake-up call and a reminder that Euroskepticism is far from being a force majeur or natural disaster: instead, it is a collective sentiment of European citizens that got skillfully exploited by populist parties and translated into a battle cry, a quasi-program, and a pseudo-vision for the future. It is now enough to beat the drums of doom and portray the EU as a specter of velvet totalitarianism or else demonize Brussels, and behold the mandate—you can win the elections to the despised European Parliament, an institution which Mr. Farage hates and holds in contempt, even refusing to attend the meetings of his committee, yet this does not prevent him from being well paid by it. No program or vision is needed—just an imagined monster onto which you project all your dissatisfaction and worries caused by modern politics and life.

The EU is at crossroads, and the time is up. We have to act. Otherwise, we will fail, leaving Europe in tragedy. If we needed a clear signal, we got it in these elections.

Leonidas Donskis

Leonidas Donskis was a Member of the European Parliament (2009–2014). He has written and edited over thirty books, fifteen of them in English. Among other books, he is co-author (together with Zygmunt Bauman) of Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity (2013).

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