European chicanery and the French election

As long as European power-holders feel no need for popular legitimacy and rule increasingly through fear and subterfuge, Europe’s time of troubles will only get worse

Sarkozy: "a volatile leader with strong authoritarian inclanations"
Tom Gallagher
On 14 March 2012 11:19

During the prolonged economic crisis gripping the EU, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has frequently insisted that the failure of the Euro would be catastrophic for Europe. Thus at Davos in January 2011, he declared: ‘Chancellor Merkel and myself will never – do you hear me, never – let the Euro fall….The Euro is Europe. And Europe spells 60 years of peace’.

Yet in the face of a growing threat to his own political survival, he has been prepared to publicly trash European institutions and ditch them unless French interests gain full protection from them. On March 11th, midway through his re-election battle, he told supporters that he was fully prepared to pull France out of the Schengen agreement, which allows passport free travel within most of the EU states, unless there were big curbs on illegal immigration.

‘We can't leave the management of migration flows to technocrats and tribunals," he told around 50,000 supporters at a rally in the Paris suburbs.

It is the French governing ethos which of course has provided the architecture for this top-down EU whose bureaucratic methods Sarkozy suddenly loudly complains about. The present master of France refuses to level with the electorate about the key mistakes which have led to labour market strains and, above all, to persisting with ruinous schemes to prop up a dysfunctional currency union. Demagogy is preferred to having a transparent conversation with citizens about the economic fix that much of Europe is now in. It is a revealing insight into the respect that Sarkozy has for the wisdom of the French voters and how to disorientate enough of them so as to obtain a second term in the Elysee Palace.

It is striking to recall that on November 10th 2010, the EU President, Herman Van Rompuy warned that ‘The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war’. He could have been referring to the brazen French populist who helped to land him the post of running the pan-European institutions set up by the 2009 Lisbon treaty. Last month the Belgian statesman was re-elected by his peers for a further term with the people being kept at arm’s length. This is an election without choice that Sarkozy and the other rising autocrats in Europe must feel some envy over.

Sarkozy has been invoking the European spirit in order to accomplish the de-legitimisation of his main rival, Francois Hollande of the Socialist party who is ahead of him in most polls. Hollande has become a virtual outlaw because of his stated intention to renegotiate the new intergovernmental treaty on fiscal discipline, signed by Sarkozy and 24 other EU leaders in Brussels on March 2nd. Remarkably, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy and the UK's David Cameron made a verbal agreement to snub Hollande ahead of the April 22nd elections in the hope of boosting Sarkozy’s chances. The claim that the EU project will be endangered if the wrong politician wins next month bears a passing resemblance to another election at a fearful time in European history.

In 1948, the Italian Communists appeared to be in with a real chance of winning the general election and thus opening the door for further Soviet expansion westwards. To prevent this outcome, the United States mounted a massive publicity blitz to warn Italians about backing Palmiro Togliatti and his party. The colourless left centrist Hollande is no Latin Bolshevik but so jumpy are the EU power holders about democracy delivering an inconvenient result that they are prepared to sow panic among French voters to get them to back the status quo.

Of course, it is bad form to compare the actions of the lead EU states, in drowning out democratic debate in order to impose economic governance on the eurozone, with muscle-flexing by the USA in times past. The centrepiece of the current EU strategy, the fiscal compact, is meant to enforce painful economic medicine, along with a dilution of democracy, on the peripheral states of the eurozone and it is unlikely to stop with them.

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