Support for Russia could be amplified across Europe if an anti-EU, xenophobic group is formed in the European Parliament after this month’s elections, write Lora Berg and Dr Mischa Thompson
Being European is advocating the renaissance of the nation states, and opposing the threats against them today – the threat from above through the transfer of power to the European Union, and the threat from below through non-European mass-immigration and the multicultural experiment.”
–Young European Alliance for Hope launch to create a “Europe of Fatherlands”
This quote from a new far-right European youth leader alliance embodies divisive policy issues that may be on the table if xenophobic, anti-EU parties gain in the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) elections. If predictions hold true, these elections could usher in enough such members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to form an EU-taxpayer-funded bloc, which requires 25 MEPs from 7 member states. A recognized EP bloc would gain EP funding for staff, the right to chair committees, and increased resources to spread their message.
Polls indicate that there may well be enough votes for such parties to form a bloc. According to the academic Cas Mudde, 12 of 28 EU member states will elect around 34 far-right MEPs, a gain he still considers relatively contained. Yet France’s National Front (FN) is leading at this time, and Hungary’s Jobbik won close to 21 percent of the national vote in April, while Austria’s Freedom Party has 27 percent support in polls. Anti-EU parties less to the right would increase the tally of rejectionist EP seats to 15-20 percent. For example, the Danish People’s Party is polling at 24.4 percent and U.K. Independence Party at 30 percent, with Italy’s Five Star Movement near 20 percent. Some argue that despite sufficient numbers, the formation of a stable anti-EU bloc is unlikely given competing nationalist agendas, disagreements in racist ideologies, and a history of such unions imploding. For instance, UKIP’s head recently accused the FN of being anti-Semitic, suggesting an alliance would be impossible, while a member of the Swedish Democrats spoke out against a Freedom Party EP candidate who commented that the EU was turning into a “conglomerate of Negroes.”
Yet a cluster of these parties may compromise in order to gain influence through a bloc, and hence become a disruptive minority voice in the EP focused on anti-EU and xenophobic agendas. Recent events offer a glimpse of what may happen. Support for Russia could be amplified across the EU if such a bloc were formed, given Jobbik’s recent support of actions in Crimea and calls for a “Greater Hungary” or the National Front’s Marine Le Pen announcing her surprise that “a Cold War on Russia has been declared in the European Union.” The Heinrich Boll Stiftung notes these parties were invited to Crimea as referendum observers, saying, “A danger also lies in the pro-Russian stance being channeled into European politics by many of the far-right parties.”
While the anti-immigration stance of such parties is often highlighted, minority religious rights may also be further eroded if mainstream EP parties bend in bargaining for political support. For example, a deal between far-right and leftist parties to prevent the ritual slaughter of animals in the Netherlands helped set the stage not only for the EU’s Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter, but also Denmark becoming the first country to disallow religious exemptions to ritual slaughter laws. Similarly, national-level movements against male circumcision of children rose to the European level and to a Council of Europe resolution. Other practices such as Muslim face veils, pork-free meals in schools, and building mosques are under fire in several EU states. If EU institutions weaken in their vigilance concerning religious freedom, observant Jews and Muslims could increasingly be legislated out of Europe.
These scenarios highlight why many argue that the response to an anti-EU/anti-immigrant bloc in the EP should be: no compromises. Today as in the past, increased power by such parties generates a permissive environment for intolerance at the national level and beyond. The influence of these parties is foremost their ability to cause mainstream parties to make concessions and change laws. Mainstream parties should refuse to indulge radical agendas.
A greater investment is also required in inclusive leaders who understand the needs of Europe’s young, diverse, and growing population. The practice of tolerance in the second half of the 20th century, broadened into the practice of inclusion in the 21st century, is a pillar of the transatlantic relationship; the United States is therefore also invested in this pillar being strengthened rather than further eroded.
There clearly will be increasing pressure on Roma, persons of African descent, members of the LGBT community, Muslims, Jews, and other diverse populations in a Europe that is influenced by parties favoring a “Europe of Fatherlands.” This is the time for European leaders to stand firm in their public commitment to inclusion, resist reductionist identity politics, and put the cover back on the Pandora’s Box of xenophobic rhetoric and laws. The upcoming European elections are a litmus test.
Lora Berg and Dr. Mischa Thompson are senior fellows at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think-tank in Washington DC. The GMFUS first published this article as part of its Transatlantic Takes series