Friday 15 October 2010

Extreme Europe

How should we deal with the rise of the far-right in European politics? It was a question that was debated over in the UK following the election of 2 MEPs from the British National Party in the 2009 European elections, and it is increasingly pressing across Europe. Jobbik in Hungary, the politics of the place of the Roma in France, Thilo Sarrazin and the integration of immigrants (particularly those who come from countries with an Islamic majority), and of course Wilders in the Netherlands. The PES has issued a proposal for dealing with the far-right and is challenging the EPP and ALDE parties to join them in this strategy. (PDF).

They propose the following code of conduct:

"- Condemn all racist, xenophobic, discriminatory or nationalistic statements or actions.
- Not get into a ruling coalition or electoral alliance with a Party inciting or attempting to stir up
racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred, at European or national levels.
- Refuse an implicit support from a Party inciting or attempting to stir up racial or ethnic prejudices
and racial hatred to form a government.
- Fight the legitimization of the discourses of such Parties by refusing to engage into their terms of
the debate, by not taking up their ideas into its political platforms nor in the policies it implements
when in government.
- Isolate its members not respecting those principles."

The other side to this strategy of isolation is PES-specific: the party places some of the blame in the court of the Conservative and Liberal parties for their obsession with cutting the deficits across Europe and not paying attention to jobs and growth. I tend to agree to some extent, in that fiscal conservatism needs to be married with some overarching ideology and approach to the state and society - whether left-wing or right-wing. Unprincipled cutting of the welfare state on the altar of deficit reduction is alienating to the public; it is simply the elites tending to the public finances without regard to the public.

Though I disagree with the Tory vision of the state, Labour's charges of ideological cuts strikes me as purely politik. Both parties would make ideological cuts and revisions to the tax system, and it's healthy to have a debate about what sort of society and conception of the state there should be. So far, while Labour has spoken out about the cuts being unfair, I think they should give a clearer idea about what role they think the state should play. The left-wing arguments of fairness will start to ring hollow against the right-wing version if they let it go unchallenged. The key, though, is to have the debate and to make sure that politics matters beyond the mere management of the state. Otherwise mainstream politics will appear to be distant and disconnected.

So the challenge is for parties to be more challenging and engaging in a way that avoids the terms and rhetoric styles of the far-right. The proposal not to accept support from the far-right is a principled and right approach, though it comes with dangers too.

In the Netherlands, the new government is a minority coalition with support from Geert Wilders' PVV party. An alternative coalition would look more like a Grand Coalition, as parties more to the left of the VVD (Liberals) or the CDA (Christian Democrats) would have to join. Under the current arrangement, the danger is that the PVV's policies could be legitimised to a degree by the association with the government, while it could also play as an opposition party and try to have it both ways at the next election. Those who claim that Wilders will become more moderate when faced with the realities of power have to remember that the PVV doesn't have to take the responsibility for bad decisions by the government. On the other hand, a Grand Coalition would limit the scope for mainstream political debate and could permit Wilders to set himself up as the main opposition. The governing parties would have to try and maintain their own distinct identities and arguments, which the LibDems in the UK have found hard to do.

On balance, I think that the Grand Coalition approach is better if done well, and it is certainly the more principled option. However, it may depend on the conduct of the parties which approach will turn out to be the best in each case. A completely different question, of course, is whether the approach or recommendations of the Europarties will make any difference to the actions of the national parties. I can't see it figuring in their day-to-day political action.

In other news, the Public Prosecution Department in the Netherlands has recommended that Wilders be found not guilty of inciting hatred towards Muslims or of discriminating against them. They were forced to take up the case after a High Court ruling, but the political consequences will likely be contrary to what the anti-racism campaigners originally wanted.


  1. ALDE is not the liberal party, it's the liberal group in the EP. The liberal party (or Europarty) is the ELDR. VVD is a member of the ELDR.

  2. And what of the people who voted for the PVV and Jobbik.

    Shall we arrange the trains and set up the camps?

    My God, they've really done a job on you, haven't they?

  3. Somebody (possibly the WSJ blog? Or the FT Brussels Blog? Can't remember) suggested a slightly cheeky third option: put Wilders in the cabinet. Make him foreign minister. Then send him to the Middle East for his first assignment.

    At the moment - he's got prestige without responsibility. He's absolutely going to play the role of "opposition in government."

  4. @ Anonymous #1

    True, I just wrote party as a shorthand to not over-complicate the sentence. The previous post was all about ELDR as the pan-European liberal party.

    @ Anonymous #2

    What? I'm not sure where you're getting that from. The idea is to attract people back to mainstream politics by making it more dynamic and relevant - by having more real debates about the nature of the state and society. Not working with far-right parties doesn't mean removing their MPs from parliament or dissolving their parties, it's just a principled stand on what policies you won't work with.

    @ Eurogoblin

    It's probably better to have them in or out rather than a halfway house which is easier to exploit. On principle, I'd prefer them to stay out...

  5. From Anonymous #1: ok but the correct thing here is to refer to the ELDR, as you did with the PES (and not the S&D) because national parties are members of Europarties, they are not members of EP groups (I'm not a liberal, just a euro-perfectionist :-)

    Btw, isn't this whole thing a carbon-copy of what's been going on for 8 years now in Denmark with the Danish People's Party?

  6. This situation with the radical Islamophobia right in especially the Netherlands is a lot more serious than most people treat it. I also believe that the CoE has also helped fan the flames of Islamophobia itself by being concerned with "Islamists" who are very few in number - without regard for European Muslims and THEIR rights as EU citizens. The CoE and PACE must place combating Islamophobia as first - and make up for the damage they have done in pronouncements against "Islamists!"

    The situation in the Netherlands needs to be closely watched. Wilders is on trial for his statements intended to bring about hate against Muslims - and it has done just that...the prosecution is primary for calling the Koran the equal of Mein Kampf. The prosecution and laws are consistent with recommendations from PACE and Wilders is surly guilty --- but now there is talk that he might actually be acquitted!

    What Wilders should actually be prosecuted for and stirring hate about is the used of the hateful "Islamisation" myth!

    What is actually behind this radical Islamophobia is that myth that "the Netherlands is being Islamified." Nobody of any political stature in the Netherlands appears to be capable of doing basic research into the demographic and statical data, which tells us that there is NO "Islamisation" and most immigrants to the Netherlands come from other EU member states. Political figures that claim that their country is "being Islamified" should be prosecuted. The Islamisation myth should be relegated to the same place as the Holocaust denial is..!

    There is NO "Islamisation" of the Netherlands, Europe, or America - and it's the malicious myth, which the PACE has helped to spread - that must be exposed as false and hateful - and relegated to the same garbage heap as Holocaust denial!

    We need to watch the Netherlands - as Geert Wilders could very well be the next European dictator...

  7. EPP responded to the PES today: "PES exploits rise of extremism for their self-serving populist rhetoric" heavy duty stuff!

  8. What is good is that there is a start to confronting the likes of Wilders.
    There is common ground - and that needs to be expanded.
    The reality is that Wilders and the PVV need to be confronted, along with Islamophobia - and a policy to roll it back is also in order.!

  9. Statement from the EPP - and it's a start:

    "On October 3rd, I declared that it is the duty of the major political families in Europe to reflect and to combat jointly the rise of extremism. Following my declaration, I initiated a discreet effort to bring together the leaders of the main European parties - the Party of European Socialists (PES), the European Liberal Democrat and Reform party (ELDR), and the European Green Party (EGP) - so we can establish a common framework for dialogue and to respond to this challenge."