Friday

23rd Apr 2021

EUobserved

European democrats, time to wake up

  • Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, two leaders who are polar opposites (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

The storming of Capitol Hill by a Trumpian mob was shocking - but shouldn't come as a total surprise.

A significant number of the people who voted Donald Trump into office didn't support him despite his authoritarianism - but because of his authoritarianism.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

They were very well aware of his treatment of women, his "grab them by the pussy", his "you're fired" bullying and his tax-evading. They knew very well Trump doesn't see a difference between facts and lies. But they didn't care and almost gave him a second term.

Europeans tend to look down on this kind of American saga. We, educated Europeans, would never elect a man like Trump...would we?

Europeans have a sort of misguided superiority thinking. This is only possible because we easily forget about our own history, even the most recent one.

We forget about Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922, the failed putsch of Hitler in 1923, the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 (for which the communists were blamed), the Greek junta in 1967, the coup attempt in Spain in 1981, the war in the former Yugoslavia, the Brexit campaign which was full of lies.

And then we're not even talking about the fascist takeover of Europe in the 1930s and the second world war.

After the march on DC's Capitol Hill, we have to ask ourselves if it would be possible to see in the near future a march on Brussels?

The answer is yes. Europe is dealing with the same dark forces.

The democratic decline in Hungary and Poland are obvious examples of this, but not the only ones. Let's not forget, for example, that Marine Le Pen received one-third of the votes in the French presidential elections of 2017. The political landscape has become extremely volatile with new parties winning the elections and disappearing a few years later.

It is considered cheap to make comparisons to the period between the two world wars, called the interbellum. And yes, history may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes (from whoever this quote is).

After the horrors of the first world war Europe (and the rest of the world) had to live through a deadly pandemic, the Spanish flu, and through a financial crisis after the Wall Street crash. The Russian revolution brought many refugees to Europe too.

Since 9/11 Europe has had to live through terrorist attacks, a financial and economic crisis, a so-called refugee crisis and currently a pandemic. Even though the situation is not the same, the cocktail of crises is very similar.

It is this cocktail of traumatic experiences that make people receptive of an ideology that propagate the return to a mythical past, when everything was better, an ideology of 'Us versus Them', the people against the so-called elite.

This ideology might have different shapes or colours, the basic story remains the same. "Make America Great Again" is only one example of an ideology that is on the rise in the entire world: Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Sisi in Egypt, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, and so forth.

Every single one of these leaders is capable of making people do what the Trump mob did in Washington. And we better prepare for it.

What to do?

The question is what democrats should do about this?

It isn't easy to battle populism, conspiracy theories, fake news and historical myths. That is why many democrats decide to fight the far-right by copying them. They choose a kind of far-right light, becoming a bit anti-refugee or a bit Islamophobic.

We have seen this strategy unfolding in France, when then president Nicolas Sarkozy copied some of the language of Le Pen. Emmanuel Macron chose a similar path after the beheading of a teacher in the suburbs of Paris.

However, the lesson Macron and all those who prefer to copy the far-right points should have learned from Sarkozy is that it only makes the far-right stronger. Let's call them the 'shifters'.

There is the opposite strategy, one that doesn't change opinion but goes full-frontal against the far-right. It's the strategy of the 'holders'. The number one example is probably Angela Merkel.

During the so-called refugee crisis, she didn't shift to the discourse of the far-right. She kept on her line and said "wir schaffen das" ["we can manage this"]. Many said she had made a huge mistake and that this would be the end of her chancellorship and even of her party, the CDU. The opposite happened.

Does that mean that there are no problems with the far-right in Germany? Certainly not, but they don't set the political agenda as much as the far-right is doing in many other European countries.

Therefore, it is time for European democrats to wake up.

In fact, I should say we democrats should wake up. Politicians, journalists and civil society.

We should stop shifting discourse and hold our democratic lines firmly. We should not tolerate the anti-democratic behaviour of the current Hungarian and Polish government anymore and give a clear signal to other governments and parties that betraying our democratic values is unacceptable.

If not, before we know, they will organise a march on Brussels.

Interview

2018: Juncker: Far-right 'never had a chance' against the EU

The far-right rose in power over the span of 2017 and 2018. But for former EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, they never posed a real threat. "They are not right because their basic societal analysis is wrong," he said.

Opinion

What does Trump's 'coup' mean for Europe?

If Trump is still alive, healthy, free and tweeting politics by 2023, I think we all can officially start to worry. Not only for the American democracy, but for democracies in Europe and the rest of the world.

Column

What is needed now: real leaders

Last August, German activists almost stormed the Reichstag building to protest the government's corona measures. In the Netherlands, farmers angry at the government's policies to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions rammed the doors of local government buildings with tractors.

US riot: How did EU's pro-Trump right react?

European far-right leaders who back outgoing US president Donald Trump condemned the violent mob who stormed the Capitol in Washington - but fell short of pinning blame on the man who incited the rioters.

News in Brief

  1. Putin's troops march back again from Ukraine border
  2. German business favours Greens candidate to succeed Merkel
  3. 2020 was Europe's hottest year on record: EU scientists
  4. Germany: Bosnia plan put into 'shredder of history'
  5. Czech Republic to expel more Russian diplomats
  6. Over 120 people feared dead after Libya shipwreck
  7. Biden: US will cut emissions by 50 percent by 2030
  8. Golden backdoor to EU exposed in Malta

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. EU mulls legal action against AstraZeneca over shortfalls
  2. Palestinian PM demands EU pressure Israel on elections
  3. New Bauhaus contest kicks off to inspire green projects
  4. Albania's election: what is at stake?
  5. Football's 'Super League' - an own-goal for EU soft power
  6. Chemical-weapons vote reveals 'friends of Syria' axis
  7. Russia should pay 'costs' for Czech attack, US says
  8. Merkel 'open' to EU treaty change on health

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us