Saturday 16 May 2009

Eurosceptic, moi?

Libertas have tired to portray themselves as pro-European, but anti-Lisbon, though many aren't convinced due to some of his continental EP election allies (for example, French politician Philippe de Villiers). Combined with their general rhetoric and lack of policy alternatives (honestly, if you can't come up with any policies and your website counter says there's under 19 days to the election, why not just remove the line promising to reveal your policies in the coming weeks?), it's not surprising that most people consider Libertas a Eurosceptic party - apart from other Eurosceptic parties of the "Better Off Out" variety.

Still, with Ganley's vague musings on wanting a 25-page constitution, and perhaps an elected president (though I think this has been dropped recently), there was something there that could be spun into a critical yet pro-European image; a brand for those who don't hate the EU, but are still uncomfortable with it. Ganley has waxed lyrical on the single market, saying how he himself has benefited from the EU; the implication being that Libertas doesn't have a problem with the fundamentals of the EU.

Yet, with around 3 weeks left, the Irish Times have reported that Libertas have an immigration policy, both for EU and non-EU citizens coming into Ireland. They want a "blue card" system:

"[Caroline Simons, Libertas' Dublin candidate has been] calling for the adoption of a “blue card” throughout the European Union that would allow a citizen of the EU to live in another member state for up to two years as a guest worker as long as they were not a burden on the receiving state."

It's not just Simons:

"Her comments followed similar comments on Thursday by Libertas East candidate Raymond O’Malley, who said the time had come to stop the tide of workers coming from accession states."

Given that the single market has at its core the free movement of goods, capital, services and people, this represents a major attack on the single market. Hardly a pro-European policy.

This latest lurch deeper into right-wing populism may be a result of recent opinion polls which show that the 3 main parties are likely not to face any major challenge by Libertas - indeed, the current prediction is that Libertas will win no Irish seats. So even Ganley's chances are slim, despite having the advantage of being the sole candidate living in Galway, the most populous area of his constituency.

Considering that immigration has never been an issue in Ireland before - at least, not one where the main parties are prominent - it will be quite interesting to see how this goes down with the electorate. Speaking very generally, the economic boom and a certain sympathy for immigrants due to Irish history has ensured that the few grumbles there have been over immigration have been largely overwhelmed by appeals to the Irish people's image as a friendly and hospitable people.

I doubt it will be very effective for 2 reasons (beyond that of the historical sympathy):

(1) a reaction to the economic crisis was an increase in emigration. Not all of it is to the EU, and the degree of it may have been talked up by the Irish media since the image of people leaving invokes the pre-boom Ireland and can be seen as a symbol of the collapse. However, restricting emigration opportunities may not go down too well. I'd say people will still look at the restrictions such a policy would impose on them as well as other EU citizens as not being a factor unworthy of consideration.

(2) this stance shows desperation on Libertas' part. They have already portrayed themselves as ring-wing and Catholic, so I can't see how many extra votes this will get them. At the same time, Libertas needs to get more voters to embrace it by being more moderate and less of a fringe party. In other words, the Irish are still quite pro-European and any Eurosceptic party will need to be seen as somewhat respectable to get any sort of significant vote. The further right Libertas goes, the more it inhibits its ability to gain a wide base of support.

Of course, Libertas' support could get a boost in the next 3 weeks. Walesa will probably give another Libertas address, this time in Ireland, and Libertas will get a publicity boost if nothing else. (If Walesa gives this address, it will be his 3rd paid appearance for Libertas after Rome and Madrid, despite his son running under an EPP-aligned Polish party and despite saying that he doesn't support Libertas; he just values their role as a democratic opposition [or something along those lines]).

And interesting question would be: if no Libertas candidates are elected in Ireland, how long will Libertas hold together without/with a weak Ireland-based leadership?

On a wider note, here's some analysis in the Irish Times on the election: link. Interestingly, it seems to show that voters are distinguishing between candidates and current MEPs on one hand, and their opinions of the government and opposition on the other, despite the lack of a developed pan-European campaign. Perhaps not so much identification of European issues as opposed to national one, as identification with candidates and current MEPs, and a willingness to see them (slightly) separately from their parties. It's great to read that candidates are being judged on an individual level, and a pity that not all member states give their citizens this opportunity.


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  2. Even a quick look at Philippe de Villiers and his minions campaigning under the Libertas brand in France is enough to convince anyone that ultra-nationalist and Eurotoxic are no exaggerations.

    Libertas' candidates in Poland and Italy are outside the pale of respectable politics.

    Despite its pan-European brand, Libertas' candidates seem to campaign on mutually exclusive national(ist) platforms on core issues, with few even token acknowledgements of Ganley's professed pro-European stance.

    Calls to roll back the freedom of movement for people means that Libertas does not conduct a pro-European campaign even in Ireland.

    Eurocentric, you are quite right that it is positive if Irish voters assess the performance of their MEPs and hopefully even European issues in the European elections.

    The general elections are the place to set the course for domestic government.

  3. @ Grahnlaw

    I value the election system we have over here that allows us to elect candidates. I wonder why the UK doesn't apply this system outside of NI? Considering the mainstream argument against PR in the UK is that it would distince voters from their representatives, why go for a system of PR which doesn't give voters the chance to vote for their representatives individually?

    My guess is that the parties are either too scared that they won't be able to compete as well in such a system, or they don't want to give that level of (potential) attachment to an EU body.

    @ Larry

    I'm not sure. (Not to sound rude, but are you actually being serious?).