The results of elections to the so-called European Parliament show that the peoples of our mother continent are at long last showing signs of resistance to–indeed, incipient revolt against–the cosmopolitan elites that have for so long misruled them.
Across the European Union, populist, rightist and anti-establishment parties have scored remarkably well, though the outcomes vary significantly from country to country. The EU has a website that gives the results for each country, both for this year and for the previous election in 2009.
Speaking in the most general terms, it is possible to identify two broad families of ideas among the insurgent parties. The first is essentially our own. With marked differences of emphasis, the parties of this tendency broadly agree that while a shared language, culture, and religion are important, a nation is in essence a kin group or extended family. I will call this current of thought “identitarian.”
The second is essentially libertarian in inspiration. It is concerned about individual rights and economic freedoms, not group interests or national identity. Americans will recognize this kind of “rightist” party all too well.
By far the most important breakthrough for the identitarian tendency is the stunning success of the Front National in France. It has polled over 25 percent of the popular vote, some 4 percent more than the fractious establishment conservative UMP party, and is now the largest party in France in terms of electoral support. It will take 24 seats in the European Parliament, up from only three from the previous election.
Both the FN and the UMP massively out-polled the ruling Socialist party, which managed only 11 percent of the votes. The panic stricken, inept, calamitous President Hollande called the results “a shock, an earthquake.” He now proposes to address the nation, presumably to beg the French people to stop voting outside the box.
Our state broadcaster, the BBC, has published a remarkably objective analysis of the FN’s triumph, which is well worth reading. This magnificent result is a tribute to Marine Le Pen’s inspired leadership. While some hard-line elements in French nationalist circles have criticized her for trimming, it is surely better to make some compromises and take 25 percent of the vote than boast about ideological purity, and poll derisory votes.
It is also important to bear in mind that the FN’s supposed trimming only goes so far. The FN explicitly rejects the rule of alien financial interests and dogmatic market fundamentalism, as well as supranational government and mass immigration. It also rejects the whole neo-conservative project for world domination by armed force.
Marine Le Pen is on excellent terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the day comes when she leads France, her country will not be participating in any more wars to bring a misshapen simulacrum of democracy at the point of a gun to countries that do not conform to the neo-conservative world view.
The FN believes in a bigger, less tightly bound and, yes, more diverse Europe, extending from Portugal to the Urals, rid of past fratricidal wars but also unconstrained by a centralizing proto-government that, by riding roughshod over national sensibilities, is more likely to inflame the worst kind of nationalism than to unite Europe. Such an approach is surely worthy of admiration.
Miss Le Pen has announced she will meet with other party leaders in the hope of establishing an official group that would have considerable powers in the Parliament. However, she ruled out an alliance that would include Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s Golden Dawn (see below).
The FN’s domestic prospects are very promising. Elections to the French National Assembly (equivalent to the British House of Commons and US House of Representatives) are conducted on an electoral system that has up to now proved less favorable to the FN than the d’Hondt system used in elections to the European Parliament. Nevertheless, the ruling Socialists are caught in a dilemma: Mr. Hollande could dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections, which would mean an influx of FN deputies; or he can cling to power in defiance of the popular will, and perhaps face an even worse defeat when the term of the current deputies ends in 2017.
Could the FN actually take power in France? That is now a real and exciting possibility, but will not happen quite yet. This would probably require a major economic crisis in the Eurozone that finally discredited the existing political class so completely that an electoral majority could be found for radical change.
The European single currency, essentially part of a political project for supranational government with no underlying economic logic, has proved a strait-jacket for many countries, particularly in southern Europe. The FN is the only important party in France to call for abandoning the Euro and returning to France’s national currency, the Franc, which would allow French exports to become more competitive by devaluing the currency. The alternative is endless wage cutting and hated austerity measures.
Were the Euro to collapse amidst widespread economic dislocation worse than the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, the FN might sweep to power. Such an outcome is possible, though not written in the stars.
In the meantime, since success breeds success, it is reasonable to expect further progress even without an existential crisis in the Eurozone, though something more than even the present wave of discontent will be necessary to transform strong nationwide support for the FN into an overall majority of the French people.
Another authentic identitarian party that performed well was Heinz-Christian Strache’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), which has taken more than 20 percent of the vote in Austria, up from less than 8 percent in 2009. This doubles its representation in the European Parliament from two to four (seats are allocated to each member state according to its population, and Austria is a small country). The country is plainly leaning rightwards; the establishment conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) out-polled the leftist Social Democrats, though its number of deputies dropped from six to five.
In Sweden–up to now one of the most liberal states in Europe–the anti-immigration Swedish Democrats polled just under 10 percent of the vote in a well deserved shock to the system. They will now have two seats in the EU Parliament. This is still, however, Sweden. A new party called Feminist Initiative, to which Jane Fonda has contributed, became the first overtly “feminist” party to send a representative to Brussels: a 57-year-old Gypsy named Soraya Post.
One party that did less well than anticipated was Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland. It seems to be moving from a libertarian to a more identitarian position, but its leader has not carried all his members with him. Its vote is down from about 17 percent to about 14 percent, which is a small decline, but contrary to the way in which the tide is running across Europe. It will send only three rather than four deputies to the European Parliament. Mr. Wilders’ opponents attribute the setback on his open embrace of Marine Le Pen and the Front National.
Another disappointment was the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, which at one point was one of the leaders of European identitarianism. It’s score dropped from 9.9 to 4.1 percent, and it now has only one representative in Brussels. Much of its support has gone to the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which combines demands for Flemish independence with a deliberately softer touch on immigration and identity. Its percentage of the vote went from 6.1 to 16.3, making it the top vote-getter in Belgium.
In Hungary, the nationalist Jobbik party had a very good election, taking second place with 14.7 percent, after the ruling conservative Fidesz party, and bumping the Hungarian Socialist Party back to third place. Fidesz itself has been criticized by the usual suspects for excessive nationalism, but is unlikely to care, since it took a remarkable 52 percent of the vote.
In Greece, Golden Dawn, a party whose strident rhetoric and “in your face” imagery have not in my view been wise, showed surprising sense by putting forward very high caliber candidates, including distinguished retired army officers. They polled well. Three representatives of Golden Dawn will take their seats in the new parliament, as the party took 9.4 percent of the vote. It surged into third place, pulling past the long-dominant PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Party–going by the name of “Olive Tree” in this election). This is an extraordinary achievement. One can only hope that Golden Dawn will learn the appropriate lessons about presentation, without betraying its core ideals.
Popular dissatisfaction in Greece also went the other way, with the hard-left Syriza party improving its performance more than five fold from 2009, and coming in first place with 26.6 percent of the vote.
Turning now to the libertarian tendency, the United Kingdom Independence Party has been the big winner in Great Britain. It has handsomely topped the poll, taking votes from the ruling Conservative Party, the Conservatives’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, the opposition Labour Party, and also the British National Party, which suffered complete electoral collapse and the loss of its two seats in the European Parliament. Here is a quite objective account by the BBC about the BNP debacle.
The BNP’s vote plummeted from 943,598 votes or 6.3 percent in 2009 to 179,694 or 1.1 percent in 2014, while UKIP’s vote soared from an already high 2,498,226 or 16.5 percent and second place nationally in 2009, to 4,352,051 or 27.5 percent and first place nationally.
UKIP is a strange, ideologically incoherent amalgam of free market enthusiasts, libertarians, social conservatives and crypto-identitarians, whose leader, Nigel Farage, is a charismatic speaker, much attended by controversy of every kind, personal and political. Perhaps the starkest example of UKIP’s lack of ideological cohesion is that it polls best in elections to the parliament of the European Union, while advocating withdrawal from that union. It also “faces both ways” on immigration.
UKIP vehemently repudiates any suggestion that nationality is rooted in ethnicity, and advocates the ludicrous idea of the proposition nation, which has no historical antecedents in European political thought, except perhaps in the Soviet Union, which is not exactly a happy precedent.
At any rate UKIP did advocate a colorblind immigration policy until a few days before the election, when a “tired” Nigel Farage mused in public about why he would be more reluctant to have Romanians for neighbors than Germans, perhaps an example of in vino veritas, or on the other hand of “I am their leader, so I must follow them,” or “worse” still, a confusion between Romanians and Roma gypsies, which would have been even more shocking to the bien-pensant!
Establishment commentators have been quick to pretend that UKIP’s appropriation of the BNP vote shows a considered rejection of the politics of identity.
An especially striking example is this gem from the supposedly conservative Spectator columnist Fraser Nelson:
Amidst all the fuss tonight, we may miss a wonderful moment: the destruction of the BNP. The last Euro elections were the high point for British neo-fascism, with the BNP winning almost a million votes–far more support than the National Front or Oswald Mosley mob ever managed. For five years the BNP have been parliamentarians with seats and, ergo, the right to appear on “Question Time.” They did well not because voters shared its racist agenda, but because voting BNP seemed to be the best way of throwing a stone on the Westminster greenhouse. No longer. UKIP has given a non-racist, anti-establishment alternative. For this and other reasons the BNP is in meltdown tonight, the odious Nick Griffin has accepted that he has lost his European Parliament seat and the party is being buried because it has tried to hawk racism in the most tolerant country on earth.
Well, er, no. The reasons why the BNP has been buried are in part that UKIP now “hawks racism” (that is to say, voices the concerns of ordinary people outside the loathsome metropolitan politico-media class of which Mr. Nelson is a representative–people who don’t want their country transformed into part of the third world) in a prettier package than the BNP. The moral of this story is never, ever underestimate the importance of branding and presentation in politics.
But even more fundamentally the BNP chairman Nick Griffin has long practiced the political equivalent of slash and burn agriculture, failing to understand that successful challenger parties must sink deep local roots and undermine the edifice of two party system politics by picking away at its foundations in local government. Instead Griffin grandstanded on national television with disastrous results, while marginalizing, undermining and in the last resort purging perceived potential rivals in his own party rather than building a winning team. Now he has paid the price of his failures of leadership, vision, and even moral character. The many good patriots whom he has led astray over the long years of his undeserved predominance will shed no tears at his undoing.
How the UKIP phenomenon will play out is not foreseeable. It might evolve into a broadly based populist party of the Right, articulating the legitimate fears and concerns of the British people, or it might cozy up closer to the system parties, seeking an arrangement with the ruling Conservatives, whose coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, lost ten of their eleven European seats and are on their way out of government.
Anyone who witnessed, as I did, the hilarious ravings of Conservative Members of the European Parliament–including the supposedly “right wing” Daniel Hannam (personally close to UKIP leader Nigel Farage)–against the Front National will realize that there is no more hope for “mainstream” conservatism in England than from the Republican Party in the United States. Only time will tell which path UKIP takes.
Moreover, UKIP has been a major beneficiary of the electoral system for elections to the European Parliament, which allows roughly proportional representation, whereas elections to our national parliament next year will take place on the “first past the post” system that is unfavorable to parties such as UKIP, which has a high but quite evenly distributed level of support. The “first past the post” system favors parties whose support is concentrated in key constituencies (our equivalent of Congressional districts), so that next year the Liberal Democrats might well win many more seats with some 8 percent of the vote than UKIP with twice that share.
Finally, turnout in these elections has been low across Europe. It will more or less double in elections to the British parliament at Westminster next year, with unpredictable results. We are in unknown territory.
In Germany, there is no credible nationalist party, only a miasma of fractious, feuding groupuscules, heavily infiltrated by state agents provocateurs. Here we saw another example of a libertarian breakthrough, however, with the Alternative for Germany winning 7 percent of the vote and sending representatives to Brussels for the first time. It is desperately making politically correct noises about non-cooperation with any identitarian parties.
In Denmark, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party came in first with a hugely impressive 27 percent, but seeks to sidle up to our repellent Conservatives, while distancing itself from UKIP, let alone genuine nationalist parties.
It’s by no means all good news from Europe. There are few encouraging signs from Spain or Portugal, and Italian politics are mired in personality related issues. Some parties of the far Left have done well in these countries, while in countries such as Poland, where the economy is performing relatively well, the parties of the status quo have had their successes. Overall, however, we are perhaps seeing the first rays of a new dawn after a long night.