EU Elections: Democracy on Retreat

On Monday I warned of how totalitarians were making big gains in the Greek local elections. Tomorrow the entire European Union begins a four-day vote for the European Parliament, and the same thing may very well happen there. The risk for totalitarian advancement is not confined to Greece either – it could turn out to be a continent-wide trend.

Although the parliament does not have full legislative powers, its role is gradually increasing in shaping Europe’s future. It has gained a bit more formal power over the years, and as is normal for parliamentary systems it has the final word on who becomes leader of the executive branch, in this case president of the EU Commission. Therefore, it matters a great deal what ideological composition the EU Parliament has. A growing presence in the EU Parliament of totalitarian parties is inevitably going to have repercussions for Europe’s social, political and economic future.

The threat from radical movements, both on the traditional right and the traditional left, is not new. I have warned on several occasions about the gathering storm of communism and fascism on Europe’s political horizon. This rising trend has been visible both in the polls and in the bureaucracy itself. So far, Greece has proven to be more of a bellwether nation for Europe’s politics than an aberration, which lends extra importance to the Greek elections this past weekend. Greek voters did not exactly improve the forecast for European politics, especially since those elections were held so close to the EU election.

As if to confirm the seriousness of the threat from anti-democratic movements across Europe, the last election forecast from PollWatch predicts that totalitarian parties are going to make their strongest showing in Europe since before World War II. In Greece, Syriza is forecasted to win with almost 30 percent of the votes. This is a party that sees former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as a role model. Venezuela is perhaps the only industrialized nation in the Post Cold War era that has had an even more devastating encounter with big government than Greece has had under the Great Recession. So, obviously, more is better…

To add insult to injury, openly Nazi Golden Dawn is predicted to be the third largest party in the Greek EU elections. This actually under-estimates their support among voters: since Golden Dawn is strongly opposed to the EU as it is constructed today, their voters are not predisposed to go and vote in the EU parliamentary election. The real test of their long-term strength will come in the next Greek national elections, which are still a few years out.

Another troubling message from PollWatch concerns France, where aggressively nationalist Front National is predicted to win the EU elections. The Financial Times has described the Front National as having an undeniable fascist touch and strong ties to brown-shirt British National Party and aggressively nationalist Jobbik in Hungary. While the current leader of Front National, Marine Le Pen, has been trying to steer her party in toward the political center line, her efforts have thus far not washed away  the dark legacy of her father and the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

As for Hungary, there are two parties that compete for the position as most aggressively nationalist. Jobbik edges out Fidesz on the ideological front and is, according to the aforementioned Financial Times article, “really thuggish: it has a uniformed militia, and specialises in stirring up antagonisms towards the Roma.” PollWatch predicts that Jobbik will capture more than 17 percent of the Hungarian EU votes and thus come in second. Fidesz, the predicted winner, is a somewhat more traditional European nationalist party, but its ideological foundation accords more with Jobbik than with mild-mannered social democrats or liberals.

In Portugal the radically leftist Socialist Party is predicted to win with almost 40 percent of the votes. This party has historically been one of Europe’s most successful communist parties. It has capitalized mercilessly on the Great Depression, making political promises similar to those of Syriza in Greece, namely to restore the welfare state to its old glory and then expand government from there. (Clearly, the world’s largest government is not enough for Europe’s increasingly aggressive socialists and communists.)

Overall, then, the picture is pretty grim for Europe’s immediate political future. However, there are some mitigating predictions in the poll. Britain’s BNP and equally fascist National Democrats in Germany seem to be confined to one or two percent of the votes. This is good news, but it is also important to keep in mind that only a few years ago people were laughing at the thought of Front National winning a nationwide election in France. If Front National, Jobbik, Golden Dawn and others like them do well in this election, it could pave the way for stronger showings by Germany’s National Democrats and even British BNP.

Hopefully, the rise of patriotic, democratic parties across Europe can serve as a firewall against fascism. Democratic, patriotic parties like British UKIP, Denmark’s Danish People’s Party or Party for Freedom in the Netherlands have nothing in common with fascist parties other than a belief that the nation state should be strengthened vs. the EU. Before democratic patriots came onto the European political scene, European voters who were patriotic in the traditional American sense – you believe in your country and want it to be free, open, peaceful and democratic – had nowhere to go but to ugly fascists like the BNP in Britain. Fascists capitalized on this, of course, and for a while it looked like the BNP and even the ND in Germany could become credible political players.

Fortunately, democratic patriots in Britain now have somewhere to go where they can love their country without supporting totalitarianism. That somewhere is the UKIP, which wants Britain out of the EU, that Britain regains sovereignty over its own legal jurisdiction, that government is scaled back and taxes come down. Under its relentless leader Nigel Farage, UKIP is predicted to win the British EU elections.

Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, will probably come in second in the Netherlands while Denmark’s democratic patriots in the Danish People’s Party look like winners.

Again, hopefully this will keep fascism from once again becoming a dominant force in European politics. But we must also remember that fascism is only one form of totalitarianism; socialism is the other. With both fascism and socialism advancing in the EU elections, the stage will be set for more turbulence in European politics, more social unrest – and more economic stagnation.