28th Jul 2021


Pro-Europeans also culpable for new far-right alliance

  • The queasy prospect of Marine Le Pen addressing the chamber of the European Parliament from the front row risks becoming a reality (Photo: European Parliament)

Two years on from the European Parliament elections, in which the populist rightwing failed to deliver the earthquake some predicted, the parliament will likely soon become the home of a new Frankenstein far-right alliance of illiberal populists.

A "super group" as first envisaged by Steve Bannon, and a dream now pursued by Viktor Orbán, seems unlikely.

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Even for some on the far-right, Orban and Marine Le Pen are too toxic, especially for those hoping to form national governing coalitions. But the consequences of a new pan-European alliance of 'illiberals', including a parliamentary wing, will still be profound.

The likely new group will have access to significant financial resources.

It will be increasingly difficult for pro-European parliamentarians to construct a so-called 'cordon sanitaire' around them. The queasy prospect of Le Pen addressing the chamber of the European Parliament from the front row risks becoming a reality.

How can this have happened?

The bitter truth is that we, pro-Europeans, have no one to blame but ourselves. As we approach the mid-term of the mandate of the European Parliament and the Ursula von der Leyen era, the populist declaration is a violent wake-up call.

The predicted populist wave was stemmed in 2019, but - with the exception of the pandemic recovery fund - the European project has stumbled and guess what: the citizens have noticed.

In the wake of the elections, the 'Spitzenkandidat' [lead candidate] process was neutered. There has been little or no progress towards fixing it, neither on the transnational lists needed to democratise the Union.

The Conference on the Future of Europe faced a complicated birth and struggles to capture the imagination of the public. The Council and the Commission treat it as a threat.

Uninspiring candidates

The European Parliament, stripped of its soul by the pandemic, has gone into reverse gear, becoming a humble servant of the von der Leyen Commission, instead of a fiery and independent parliamentary watchdog. The candidates in the mix for the mid-term change of the presidency of the parliament inspire little confidence of a much-needed reboot.

The EU's response to the pandemic was well-intentioned, but poorly-executed. There is little self-reflection. Despite the clear need for a new and genuinely European approach to migration and asylum, the cynically renamed 'Team Europe', struggles to even debate the issue.

Stop-gap European policies based on the lowest common denominator, like outsourcing our migration policy to third countries of dubious character, fail to address underlying issues and end up pleasing no one.

The subsequent risk is that even pro-Europeans find it difficult to defend the status quo.

The commission's failure to act to defend the rule of law means pro-Europeans can no longer say with conviction that the EU is a space of freedom. The fact that the commission will not even apply conditionality laws to tackle corruption is astounding.

As we have seen in Poland and Hungary, democracies take a long time to build, but can be broken in the blink of an eye.

These failures have given space and fuel to the far-right. The populist's declaration is contradictory and camouflages the real intention of its signatories, who aim for a world of unfreedom, inequality, oppression and violence, far from the 'Christian' values they espouse.

But pro-Europeans cannot sit on the side-lines and allow only the far-right to make Europe political. We have to beat them in the political arena. The only answer to their values agenda can be our own values agenda.

This declaration must spawn an alliance of pro-Europeans with a coherent counter-vision to the dystopia of Viktor Orban and friends, based on a powerful, passionate political defence of our common European values: democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights. Equality, diversity, freedom. The polarised political landscape we now have creates a duty to rebuild a strong political centre.

No more sitting on hands - those who care for the EU also need to start tackling the root causes of our project's hibernation. The colourful wave of rainbow flags that engulfed the entire European Union, including the football stadiums, was a strong manifestation of European public opinion and it is far from the values of Le Pen or Orban.

Complacency and inaction by pro-Europeans helped to breath life into this Frankenstein alliance, but the antidote to it is also in our hands. The best response to this far-right alliance?

To fight for a new era of fundamental rights and European integration.

Author bio

Sophie In 't Veld is a Dutch MEP from the Democrats 66 party, of the Renew Europe liberal group.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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