The Emerging Populist Majority
Europe finds itself at crossroads as elections for the European Parliament approach. Patrick Sullivan looks at how the surge in support for Populist Parties could change the EU.
It has become high fashion amongst continental elites to throw scorn upon the very process of politics. Politics, it appears, is beneath their dignity. However, they forget one fundamental fact: it is through the political process that they claim legitimacy. And what the electorate give us, the electorate can take away.
Britain’s political elite has not covered itself in glory in recent months and by failing to deliver on Brexit for their self-imposed departure date, they have created the environment for a historic realignment in British politics. It is increasingly likely that Britain will now end up taking part in the European Parliamentary elections in eight weeks time.
Earlier today, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk made the case for granting Britain a long extension to Article 50. This would certainly assist his cause of preventing Brexit but would also have consequences, in relation to the future composition of European Parliament and the future direction of travel for the continent.
As it currently stands there is a growing populist sentiment across continental Europe and populist parties are predicted to do well, in the coming elections. 41% of EU Member States (11) are already governed by populist governments. It would not take much to cause support for said parties to reach a critical mass wherein they become a majority in the European Parliament; as such, they will also get to vote on who should be President of the European Commission.
Whilst the British public has rightly been focused on our national nightmare; Europe’s political establishment has been given sleepless nights by a plethora of problems, of which Brexit is only one.
In France, Monsieur Macron has revelled in the complexity of Britain’s departure but he seems to have forgotten that Paris was recently burning, resulting in a recent aggregate of polls showing Marine Le Pen’s National Rally pulling ahead of Macron’s En Marche party.
Italy which itself has recently stumbled into a recession has the most popular government in modern history. The populist left-right alliance of the 5 Star Movement and Northern League has deftly played off against the European Union and Brussels Bureaucrats as an excellent political foil and the real enemy of the Italian people. It is likely that his popularity will be reflected when the Italians go to the polls.
The aforementioned President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is a former Prime Minister of Poland, of the liberal conservative variety. He resigned as Prime Minister to take on his current role in 2014. Mr. Tusk departure from the national politics of Poland was impeccably timed. An outlier of the wave which was to take 2016 by surprise; the populist Law and Justice Party won a majority in the 2015 Polish general election. This gave the government of Poland to a bono fidi Eurosceptic Party. This is evident in that they sit with the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe grouping, in the European Parliament, alongside the UK Conservative Party.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was recently summoned before the European Parliament and treated like a disobedient school child rather than a head of state. His country was threatened with the loss of its voting rights, under Article 7 because some in the Parliament did not approve of the Party the Hungarian people voted for. Despite the disgraceful behaviour to which he was subjected, Mr. Orbán does not want to take his country out of the Union. A greater peril to the sitting establishment, he wants to reform it from within.
As it is, populists and a less cuddly cabal, are in for a good election night in May. The European Parliament currently decries Britain for going through the motions of a Parliamentary democracy and representative political process, but they fail to have realised that it is this process that has prevented Britain from having a history of violent revolutions, historically common to continental Europe.
Once more, the political class and the ruling elites in Europe have become so disconnected from their citizenry, that they have proved impossible to change, regardless of circumstance. This has created an underlying tension beneath the surface of the ostensible harmony of the European project and allow forty years of opposition to this project to ride the waves of discontent.
As things stand at present, the status quo will just about get an encore prevailing by a whisker when the EU electorate goes to the polls in May. There is still, however, still potential for the growing populist sentiment in the EU to reach the critical mass where populist parties would command a majority of the European Parliament. This would be made all the more likely should Britain find itself taking part.
The campaign in Britain would likely become a proxy 2nd EU Referendum. Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party would likely be pitted against George Osborne’s mooted pop-up “Remain Party” . Even were Mr. Osborne’s preferred outcome to materialise, it would still lead to a significantly inflated populist caucus of British MEPs . A bad night for Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party would still likely lead to gains of at least an additional 5 seats to the 24 seats a Nigel Farage-led UKIP won last time round, in 2014.
This new populist block will seek to remake Europe in a very different image as the one envisioned by the founders of the European project. European politicians might find the current chaos that has taken the place of British politics something to sneer at. They look down their noses at the British people at their peril. The culture wars, which are at the root of the rise of populism, are about to exported to Brussels, in a couple of months.
Patrick Sullivan is the Political Editor of The Commentator @PatJSullivan
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