Populism in the EU
Whatever your opinion of the EU, unless you’ve been living in seclusion for the past few years it cannot have escaped you that greater integration has moved up a gear. It has caused uprisings which the EU have termed as ‘populism’.
The EU has been in the making since the Weimar Republic, for ninety years now. Is has demonstrated the meaning of expansionism in Europe, consolidating and accruing power. In the final stages when total control is almost complete, things move along very fast indeed; and they have been.
Long gone it seems are the days when we hear of globalism and the new world order, that started forty years ago. Today the European superstate is almost upon us, all but a police force and an army – both in the making as we speak.
Calls have been made during the coronavirus pandemic for a temporary world government, as things move exponentially faster. How scary is that! But this is how globalism works, one stepping stone at a time.
German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel at the EU parliament said that without Britain the EU would never compete with markets like North America, Asia, China, Japan, South-East Asia and so on. But globalism isn’t about competing, more about total control and a political and legitimate superstate of Europe is the EU’s primary objective.
At the end of the last century the Conservative MP for Wokingham John Redwood published a book called The death of Britain. Here are a couple of extracts:
“The UK is in the grip of a constitutional revolution. The cumulative effects of the (EU) treaties are made more radical by the quickening pace of European integration on the continent.“
He also said:
“How far do they wish to go (the labour government) in transferring government from London to Brussels and regional centres?“
In 2014, almost twenty years later, John Redwood made the following statement:
“Much of what I feared came true. Over the following decade Labour signed the Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon Treaties, transferring 168 major areas of policy from UK control to majority voting in the EU. That included control over our borders and immigration policy, energy and some criminal justice amongst many.
“We no longer have a constitution based on a powerful Parliament subject to the sovereignty of the people, expressed at election time in the ballot box and the rest of the time as public opinion. We are now a member state under European control in many fields, and a divided nation arguing about whether to stay together or not.
“Parliament has been damaged by moving to shorter hours and fewer days in session, by a single PM Questions each week, and above all by now facing many areas where Parliament cannot change the law even if it wishes to, owing to EU law. I rest my case.“
As the EU expands its influence it is at the cost of eroding sovereignty for member states. The more sovereignty that is surrendered, the less effective democracy becomes as people have less and less control. Therefore sovereignty is key for both the authoritarian and democratic models.
The EU is not only un-democratic but positively anti-democratic. It has expanded, as the Weimar Republic once did, with treaty upon treaty; each one requiring a little more sovereignty from member states. Nothing can get done without first having agreement between member states that the EU will take control of an issue and a treaty signed to that effect.
As has been admitted by the EU, they now have so much sovereignty encompassed within their numerous treaties that in effect they control most member states outright, irrespective of how much sovereignty those states have retained. The problem with authoritarianism such as the EU, is it must continually respond to issues with more treaties and rules until it becomes a self-destructing and unstoppable process in decline. Eventually superstates implode.
Greek banker and member of the Hellenic parliament Yanis Varoufakis explains it better than I in the short clip below. He does not oppose the EU institutions but would redesign them in light of their bad design.
At the political level within the EU there are several eurosceptic parties such as the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe party. The new Brexit Party MEPs that attended the EU parliament in 2019 released many videos on social media highlighting the inability to make a difference, they exposed the EU parliament as portraying the illusion of democracy when in fact the elected representatives do not have any influence in political affairs. They just attend to share speeches.
The eurosceptic sentiment outside of the EU parliament at national level is made up of people and parties that oppose the EU for various reasons. But the EU clumps them all together and calls it populism. By labelling all opposition and discontent the same, it rallies the EU stalwalts against a perceived threat to the EU.
EU stalwalts view populists as disgruntled people with radical ideologies that are ignorant of the utopia the EU provides. Therefore they see populists as a disruptive lot, far right extremists, neo-nazis, fascists, radicals and plain racists.
In the UK, where the illusion of democracy was believed right up until the Brexit referendum in 2016, almost half the population was ready to hand over full control to the EU. The EU already had a firm grip on British institutions like the BBC which was utilised to work against Brexit. If it were not for the Brexit Party, Brexit could not have happened.
Italy was a nation totally ruined and bankrupted by the EU in 2008 who therefore controlled them financially, Greece being another nation to suffer at the whim of EU financial policy. It used Italy and Greece to prop up dependency for its failing single currency the euro. Yanis Varoufakis explains this in detail on youtube, watch the brief interview on BBC Newsnight May 2016 – here.
It was too late for Italy and Greece. Following the refugee crisis from Syria, Italy and Greece were the first destinations to be effected. It caused severe problems because of the EUs refugee policies, and not least because they were and still are countries in deep economic recession for more than a decade. Italy turned back many refugees, Greece moved them to camps across several Greek islands, where they remain today unable to practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Matteo Salvini’s centre-right Lega Nord party, was able to gain power because people had no other option but to turn to a party that heard their voice and could offer a radical solution. For a time Salvini did dramatically lower the influx of refugees.
The single issue that stirred up populism in Europe in 2008 had been the financial crisis, and in 2015 it was about the movement of people in terms of immigration and refugees. In the UK it was about controlling the numbers and not accepting the quotas set by the EU.
Was there any difference between people in the UK backing the Brexit Party to take back control of immigration and people in Italy backing Lega Nord to control their immigration. None at all. Yet the UK were portrayed as nationalists using immigration to rebel against the EU and Italy were portrayed as anti-immigrant and anti-humanitarian.
The movements of Nigel Farage and Matteo Salvini did not completely penetrate the wealthiest regions. During polling for the European election the country was shocked to see that London was completely overrun by EU stalkwalts and the same was true for Emilia-Romagna, the second wealthiest region in Italy, Salvini was unable to break the Democratic Party’s grip on the traditionally liberal Emilia-Romagna, considered the birthplace of Italian socialism.
Populism rises in response to power-flexing from the state. When the issue of the day is adequately addressed, not necessarily resolved, people return to the status quo. Populism therefore grows and wanes as required, almost like a weapon in the peoples’ armoury. What makes Farage and Salvini populists. Are they freedom fighters or enemies of the superstate.
Another way to discredit populism is to associate it with what’s termed the far right, something so distant from the norm that it is positively abhorred by the majority. In truth the far left and right are one and the same ideologies e.g. communists and nazis. This is how the EU media portray populists as neo-nazis.
Populism can be a movement to restore national identity and equally used to seize power. It’s not right to describe everything outside the control of the EU as ‘populism’. Consider Hungary and the disreputable Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
He makes regular attacks on the EU objecting to the imposition of quotas and has become very powerful with a potential to threaten the cohesion and relevance of the EU project. But he used the coronavirus pandemic to seize full control of Hungary. Man of the people or dictator?
Let’s look at other examples of populism. In 2016 the EU and Turkey made a deal to stop the flow of refugees mainly from Syria, into Greece which reduced the number by 97%. But it didn’t stop the arrivals from Africa by other routes via the Mediterranean.
When 600 refugees approached Italy’s shores on the Aquarius ship, a Médecins Sans Frontières and partner SOS Mediterranée leased vessel, it was told to find alternative ports. They eventually disembarked in the Spanish port of Valencia after being turned away by Italy and Malta. Its final operation ended on 4 October 2018 when it arrived in the port of Marseille with 58 people from two boats it found in distress and where it remains, having its licence revoked over the alleged dumping of potentially toxic waste.
Since February 2016 Italy had taken more than half a million migrants from Libya by sea. The Aquarius transported 30,000 refugees between Libya, Malta, and Italy. Italian citizens demanded action and in June 2018 Italy passed a law to control their immigration which was supported by other European nations. An estimated 2,133 people died in the Mediterranean in 2018, something largely attributed to Italy by humanitarian organisations.
Italy was able to show that the flow of refugees was due to organised human trafficking. Interior Minister Marco Minniti went to Tripoli in 2017 to make a deal with Libyan President Serraj. “The tribes are fundamental,” said Minniti, “without them the Sahara is difficult to control.” By the summer they had signed a pact for the Libyan tribal chiefs to sever links with the people traffickers in return for financial aid. The Libyan coastguard started intercepting migrant boats and the number of migrants from Libya fell by 80% from this route.
2015: One million refugees arrive at EU, 800,000 of them trafficked from Turkey. 332,000 arrived in the UK.
2014-2017: Syrian refugees alone totalled 919,000. That’s refugees, immigrants are a separate statistic.
2016: 176,000 immigrants arrive in UK from non-EU countries.
2017: Migration to the EU from non-EU countries was 716,850.
2018: 340,000 immigrants arrive in UK from non-EU countries.
2019: The total number of migrants and asylum seekers was 123,920 (International Organization for Migration). The IOM assert that the number of arrivals in Europe has been falling steadily since 2016.
The Czech Republic also refused to accept the EU’s quotas and the EU media portrayed Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (PM since 2017) as another anti-establishment leader. As a result of the policies invoked by the EU, Ano, the party headed by billionaire oligarch Andrej Babiš, replaced the Social Democratic party that dropped from largest party in Parliament to sixth.
In 2015, as the EU debated on redistributing refugees across member states, Babiš joined the then Prime Minister Milos Zeman in criticising the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis.
“I have stopped believing in successful integration and multiculturalism,” he posted on Facebook in the summer of 2016. “We must do our utmost to reject migrants, including the quotas in which we were outvoted. I want to reject the quotas even at the cost of sanctions.”
Babiš told journalists at a conference in Prague in June 2017. “If there will be more Muslims than Belgians in Brussels, that’s their problem. I don’t want that here. They won’t be telling us who should live here.”
In the Netherlands the anti-Islam Freedom party (PVV) led by Geert Wilder rose to become the second-largest parliamentary force.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party also refused to comply with the EU immigration policy insisting they were defending their sovereign right to determine their own immigration policy.
In Austria, the Freedom party, a far-right movement founded by a former nazi in 1956, won more than 20% of the vote for the first time in 1994.
In Greece 2012 the electorate gave 27% of their votes to the radical far-left populist movement of Syriza, electing them in to government three years later at the start of the refugee crisis.
In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) stood out as anti-migrant, but lets in people to do jobs the Polish do not want to do, issuing more visas to foreign workers than any other EU member state. More than 680,000 migrants received legal residency in Poland in 2017 alone. 85% were from Ukraine, and hardly any Muslim refugees have been resettled in Poland.
Referring to the pressure from the EU, associate professor at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, Ben Stanley, said:
“What they’re saying is that we want to admit Ukrainians rather than take people from the Middle East, who the EU is trying to force us to take.”
Between the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, just 12 refugees were taken by Hungary of the 160,000 during the 2015 refugee crisis. The EU’s response was through the ECJ in January 2019 which decided that all three nations broke European law when they refused to take the EU’s mandatory quotas. The countries said they were entitled to maintain law and public safety but the court’s response was that the countries had not proved it was necessary to invoke that opt-out clause in the EU treaties. The power of treaties!
Problems arose when In September 2015 the EU decided to relocate 40,000, then 120,000 refugees from Greece and Italy to other member states. The EU managed to relocate just 34,712. Therefore the rise of populist leadership in these three countries was directly attributable to poor planning by the EU.
Having ruined Italy and Greece financially in 2008 and again in 2015 with refugees (Greece 800,000, Italy 500,000,) the EU turned to Eastern block member states to accommodate the overfill, and they weren’t having it.
Since Viktor Orbán was elected, a second time, in 2010, so far the second longest serving Prime Minister of Hungary, he has put distance between Hungary and the EU. But he did not act alone, in October 2016 a referendum was held on the question whether the EU could settle refugees in Hungary without the consent of the country’s parliament and 98% voted a resounding ‘no’.
The coronavirus pandemic changed things in Hungary. Viktor Orbán blamed foreigners for spreading the virus and on 11 March 2020 he assumed the right to rule by decree following the imposition of a state of emergency giving him full control. It was justified in order to address the coronavirus pandemic in the absence of funding or leadership from the EU.
He introduced measures creating an indefinite state of emergency allowing him to restrict human rights and freedom of the press by making it illegal to publish ‘fake news’ about the virus or criticise the government. The EU media described it as the ‘dismantling of democracy’. This is where the line between populist and authoritarian lies. Did Orbán really seize control in the national interest or was it fuelled by his desire for more power.
The EU certainly believe he is out for himself. Several parties of the European parliament objected at Hungary defying the rules and not being punished for it. Thirteen nations sent a statement to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on 1 April 2020 expressing regret of the risk of the violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures.
The statement was of course referring to Hungary without actually naming them. The Telegraph newspaper stated on 2 April 2020 that the EU was in favour of urging all EU member states to respect democracy and the rule of law during the pandemic. And this is where we have to examine the EU’s choice of the word ‘democracy’ used widely to capitalise on the impasse with Hungary. The EU is not democratic.
The immediate situation with Hungary has shown that the EU does not have the mechanisms for dealing with global issues such as a pandemic throughout Europe. It didn’t manage the refugee crisis well and neither the financial crisis of 2008. It never considered that a nation would or even could defy them.
Article 50, a one page document remains the single mechanism by which to leave the EU. It cannot expel a member as this mechanism isn’t written into the treaties. The EU can only castigate through the ECJ which in turn can only reprimand with fines or sanctions.
In times of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, nation states individually are taking the lead where the EU seems unable to. It is this realisation that populist leaders can exploit and work together to subvert.
In the UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the Brexit referendum in 2016 to drain the poison from British politics. He said that anger at the EU had been legitimate and the vote helped defeat populism. He was wrong, how can the mandate given in a referendum to leave the EU be considered a defeat of populism.
Of Brexit, the Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said at a conference in Copenhagen called ‘Road to Brexit’, that “There are two kinds of European nations. There are small nations and there are countries that have not yet realised they are small nations.” He was of course referring to the UK as the latter.
Guy Verhofstadt of the EU Brexit negotiating team gave a speech to students at the London School of Economics in September 2017 where he described Brexit as a waste of time and energy. He used Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent trip to denounce those that had not supported her attempts for a post-Brexit free trade deal whilst at the same time poking fun at her. He said:
“I think she chose Florence because Florentine politics in the 15th century made her feel at home; backstabbing, betrayal, noble families fighting for power – It is an environment that she recognised fairly well.”
This type of negativity was constantly in the media. There was nothing much in support of Brexit or to represent the majority of voters until Nigel Farage set up the Brexit Party and a silent majority sent a swathe of new Brexit MEPs to Brussels. Yet neither Farage nor the Brexit Party featured much in the media despite winning the largest European national election ever. Media bias was so ashamedly obvious.
Signs of the EU’s anti-democratic movement were evident in British media throughout the whole Brexit period from 2016 to 2019. The BBC that should have been informing on Brexit issues instead spent the time, and tax-payers money, on deriding the Leave voters and everyone in government that sided with Leave.
Four years after the referendum on 5 March 2020 Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced that he would be looking into the BBC as he felt it failed to reflect the views of millions of voters and that they failed to understand the strength of Pro-Brexit feeling and ignored concern over immigration; ditto Mr Cameron.
The EU is in the process of turning itself into a superstate, a major step towards globalisation. It distances itself from local politics by attempting to be federal and controlling at arms-reach. But in its quest for centralisation it micro-manages everything about local politics.
The populist movements that the EU helped bring together by uniting uprisings under one label, have seen the ineffectiveness of the EU to control by force. The mechanisms that allow it to implement sanctions must be agreed by the other members, so it is powerless to penalise Hungary, Poland or Czech Republic if two or more band together. Populist events are one thing, but populist governments quite another and a real existential threat for a superstate in the making.
Yanis Varoufakis believes Brexit is just the start of the process of a failing EU. If it wasn’t the British it would have been another nation. Yet Yanis remains pro-EU and was an adviser to Jeremy Corbyn about the need for Britain to remain in the EU which became the party line.
Some MEPs from other eurosceptic parties did support the Brexit movement. Some said they were watching with interest and if Brexit was achieved then other nations would follow.
The German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel is one such person, in the video below he sneers at both Guy Verhofstadt and Nigel Farage for their criticisms of London.
ABOVE: This Italian MEP loses it when he arrives at the EU parliament to discuss matters of terrorism and finds only 30 others have turned up. The Brexit Party MEPs also highlighted this in their daily videos, filming several sessions when the place was empty during debates.
BELOW: Another Italian MEP. He is surprised and angered by the lack of respect for democracy, and it boils through as he tells the EU that the UK is one of the oldest democratic institutions deserving of respect.
The problem with democracy is that it works. No two democratic nations have ever gone to war, astounding as that fact may seem. Where democracy is absent war is inevitable. Capitalism isn’t the same thing but an expression of it; if someone gets rich that’s not a symptom of democracy but what has been possible to achieve because of it.
Democracy is an agreement between the people and those that it elects to govern for a given term.
If the winners and losers at an election choose not to abide by the result then that essentially breaks the democratic system. Which ever side loses the ballot must consent to accept the result. It could not be any simpler.
The losers consent is a vital part of the democratic process. As more and more powers are ceded to the EU, the democratic system becomes pointless as a government is unable to change much without EU authorisation. Brexit revealed just how much the democratic system had been eroded.
The 2016 referendum marked a turning point when the losing Remainers refused to acknowledge the result. The Liberal Party under Vince Cable were the first to say they stood for revoking Article 50 following the online petition that millions of Remainers signed. Their MEPs turned up at the EU parliament wearing yellow T-shirts with the words “Bollocks to Brexit”. The Liberal Guy Verhofstadt was there to welcome them, not to reprimand them on their dress code, which is an EU rule to dress formally.
The shambolic duration of Brexit was down to the Remain campaign with help from the EU media, by which I include the BBC. No Leave voter wanted anything more than to just leave the EU.
The world watched a Remain parliament, including a Speaker of the House doing everything conceivably possible to legally overturn the referendum result, even after the EU national election had cemented the will of the people by voting in so many Brexit Party MEPs.
The Brexit mandate was given a third time when at the General Election 2019 the Conservatives won with a huge majority. It was a Brexit election and the Conservatives had campaigned to get Brexit done.
Brexit also highlighted many people who changed their mind and became Leavers including MPs that had voted to Remain because they had seen how Leavers were being treated and saw the EU in a different light. Even a few members of the House of Lords promoted Brexit.
Populism wins short term elections. In 1998, only Switzerland and Slovakia had populists in government; in 2018 nine nations did. Since 2000 the populist vote has gone from 7% to more than 25% (according to the Guardian newspaper).
The Czech Republic, untouched by the refugee crisis in 2015, saw only 2.3% unemployment (the lowest in the EU), and its economy grew by 4.3%. In 2019 the populist parties secured over 40% at the general election. And they gave 10.6% of their votes to the Freedom and Direct Democracy party, which campaigned entirely on an anti-immigration platform.
Twice in 2005, referendums in France and the Netherlands rejected a draft EU constitution. Since the last major treaties, the EU has been attempting to cement its political armoury and this also has been a cause for concern and has added weight to the populist cause. As long as there is a national problem there will be populism and that means threats at every turn for the EU that they will defend with more treaties and regulations.
It’s no longer enough for populism to gain power by offering people a feeling that the party are on their side, parties also need to address other long term issues and offer real solutions. However, we have come full circle, as populism evolves into something useful, so does the EU construct a police force and an army to deal with it.