Sunday, July 21, 2024

Europe is fighting back against its arrogant EU overlords

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As Britain prepares to lurch to the Left, on the other side of the Channel voters in the European elections are poised to move sharply to the Right. In most of the 27 member states of the European Union, a revolt of the masses against the liberal establishment is sweeping across the Continent.

Why are the UK and the EU moving in opposite directions? In a word: Brexit. While Europe is still struggling to adapt to a nightmarish world of border anxiety, mass migration and war, the British apparently believe they can afford the luxury of electing the first Labour government for 14 years, led by a woke human rights lawyer.

If, as predicted, Right-wing parties make big gains in the European Parliament, the consequences will be far-reaching — not least for Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. While few expect the new Parliament to oust her, it will be more hostile than hitherto. A survivor from the Angela Merkel era, the President is a symbol of the crumbling federalist status quo. Suddenly, she looks vulnerable.

To save her job, von der Leyen has formed a pragmatic alliance with one of her fiercest critics, the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. A leading figure in the Right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the EU Parliament, Meloni is seen as toxic by the President’s centrist coalition of her own European People’s Party and the Socialists and Liberals.

Von der Leyen hopes to bring the ECR into her coalition, or at least dissuade them from vetoing a second term for her. But if the balance of power in the Parliament shifts far enough to the Right, the ECR could replace the Socialists in the ruling coalition and install a new Commission President in Brussels who was more in tune with the nationalist zeitgeist.

Whatever the result, we can expect the EU to erect tougher border controls, make it easier to repatriate illegal migrants and scrap targets for Net Zero.

What of the greatest threat facing Europe, Putin’s war of conquest in Ukraine? With some nationalists, led by Hungary’s Viktor Orban, leaning towards Moscow, could there be a move in the EU to block military aid to Kyiv? A deadlock scenario in the Strasbourg Parliament akin to the US House of Representatives, where Republicans spent six months delaying a package destined for Ukraine, is unlikely. But the attempted assassination last month of Slovakia’s Russophile Prime Minister, Robert Fico, is a reminder of the passions aroused by this war in the heart of Europe. 

Were this week’s elections to weaken support for Ukraine in Europe, the stage would be set for Putin to make one last bid to crush Ukraine, or at least consolidate his occupation – especially if Donald Trump wins a second term in November. While Ukraine’s neighbours are mostly preparing to defend themselves, much of Europe still hasn’t got the message. Ireland has just one operational naval vessel and still relies on the RAF to patrol its skies.

Of course, the notion of a “European demos” is a federalist fiction: each member state has its own unique political culture, which largely determines the outcome of the Euro elections.

Germany, the largest member state, returns 96 seats to the European Parliament. In 2019, the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) did well. This time, the AfD will probably overtake all three governing coalition parties in Berlin, the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, though not the opposition Christian Democrats. Such a result would be all the more astonishing given that the AfD has just been kicked out of Identity and Democracy, the most Right-wing group in the EU Parliament. The AfD’s lead candidate for the Euro elections, Maximilian Kath, told a newspaper that the SS weren’t necessarily criminals: “Before I declare someone a criminal, I want to know what he did.”

Such equivocation about the most notorious of all Nazi organisations was too much even for Marine Le Pen. The leader of France’s National Rally (RN) demanded a cordon sanitaire between her party and its extremist former German allies. The AfD is now out on its own in Strasbourg – but its influence remains strong. In Berlin a new party led by the charismatic Leftist maverick Sahra Wagenknecht has emerged, wooing voters who are too squeamish to vote for the AfD but share its views on immigration, Net Zero and Russia.

In France, the RN is polling far ahead of the field. Le Pen’s Nationalists are projected to gain at least twice as many seats as the coalition that includes Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party. She has delegated the task of leading the campaign to her youthful deputy and likely successor Jordan Bardella, who is determined to make his mark on French politics by humiliating the President. For his part, Macron has warned of “an ill wind” blowing across Europe.

Yet it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. In Dutch politics, the bouffant-haired wild man Geert Wilders is now the kingmaker. In Austria, the hard-Right Freedom Party will triumph this week. Even in Poland, where the populist Law and Justice party was defeated last year by a centrist coalition, public opinion continues to lean to the Right — and Donald Tusk, the new Prime Minister, has moved with it.

When the results are announced next Sunday evening, we will know how far Europe has distanced itself from the offshore islanders. As Britain’s most Left-wing PM since the 1970s, Sir Keir Starmer would find himself even more out of step with a conservative Europe than he expects.

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