Many European countries experience a drastic increase in far-right and anti-EU political parties. Politicians like Geert Wilders, Marie Le Pen and Heinz-Christian Strache profit from their prominent media appearances and the tiredness of many EU citizens that do not grasp the far-away Brussels bureaucracy. The upcoming elections in May might change the scene and produce a more nationally focused Union.
“Hitler’s Third Reich was more liberal and less bad compared to the dictatorship of the EU,” said Austria’s Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) top candidate for the European Parliament Andreas Mölzer recently. Yet another actor in the line of populist Eurocritics. He drew the comparison to condemn the many EU rules and regulations that supposingly infringe on our daily lives. The Nazi regime on the other hand did not limit the “freedom” of the people with as many commandments and bans. In a follow-up party event Mölzer further claimed that Europe risked becoming a “conglomerate of Negroes, where chaos multiplies via mass immigration.” Yes, you read right. These are the words of a top candidate for the European Parliament in 2014, and the FPÖ is expected to win up to thirty percent of the votes. Shocking? A single case?
Actually, you can find examples of irrational, far-right and anti-EU politicians all around Europe. The Dutch party leader Geert Wilders wants less Moroccans in the Netherlands. The French Front National just gained remarkable successes at the municipal elections, claiming to “free” the people from the EU bureaucracy. The protesters in Madrid state that the sad Spanish situation is the result of an inhumane and monstrous Union.
But, what is it that makes people think so pessimistically about the EU? What has happened to the progressive values and ideas behind the “European project” aimed to unify the people of a continent that had been continuously plagued by wars?
But why do people think so pessimistically about the European Union?
On the one hand the media is responsible for the rise of the far-right. Their provocative statements repeatedly take headlines. True to “Any news is good news” the populist parties cover increasingly the lines of newspapers and images of TV news. By giving them the stage the media indirectly supports the Nazi comparisons and blame and shame of the EU. I suggest they would give the same attention to different parties’ more productive and assertive statements concerning the Union. However two factors limit this constructive European discourse. First, another media wisdom states that “only bad news is good news”, thus focusing on the negative headlines. Secondly, many readers do not wish to actively engage more profound with European politics due to its complexity and seemingly distance.
Next, the people, we, society are to blame for the popularity of PVV, Vlaams Belang, FPÖ and their kin. We accept the public discrimination of single groups. Yes, there is with every saying and Nazi comparison uproar and political denouncement. But who still seriously cares? In this regard, the Dutch have given a positive exception to the rule. When Geert Wilders called for less Moroccans this March a noticeable popular outrage in the media and social networks followed. Indeed, it is a citizen’s duty to engage with the political establishment.
Lastly, the EU and its institutions themselves have failed to sufficiently inform the citizens of the European project and its workings. Hardly anyone identifies with the bureaucratic apparatus of Brussels. To be honest, you are lucky if people even recognize the faces of the Union Barroso and Van Rompoy. They have not sufficiently appeared in the media (see above) addressing the Union citizens and explaining “their” institution. In general it seems that also national political leaders try to avoid a sincere dialogue about the far-reaching consequences the Union has brought.
With the upcoming European elections we are in danger of exchanging Union values of equality, non-discrimination and the freedom to live and work where you wish. We are in danger of going back to narrow and narcissistic arguments excluding whole groups of people. We are about to build up mental barriers along national lines. If the other political parties continue to fail to truthfully start “European” politics for the people the Union might change dramatically.
However, the EU is not a dictatorship and every citizen has the right to go to the ballots in May. It is the responsibility and privilege of every European citizen to vote what most resembles one’s world view. Through more active political participation Mölzer and the like might get a bad awakening and can be made the awkward guys in the establishment.