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29th Jan 2023

Opinion

Christian Democracy's capitulation to far-right is a dangerous mistake

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Editor's note: This op-ed is a direct response to an op-ed previously published on EUobserver by European People's Party (EPP) MEP Romana Tomc. It also responds in part to this opinion article published on Politico 10 October, written by EPP Secretary-General Thanasis Bakolas.

Centre-right parties are forming governments with the help of neofascists in Europe, most recently in Italy and Sweden.

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As doubts intensify about Christian Democrats' commitment to the cordon sanitaire against the far right at member state and European Parliament level, EPP spin doctors have gone into overdrive. The concerted centre-right effort to frame criticism of their collaboration with the far-right as a "hysterical overreaction" has been muscular. Their ideological forbears would be turning in their graves.

Attacks on freedom of speech and the rule of law have signalled a wider EPP policy shift away from fundamental rights in recent years.

The Greek case is 'Exhibit A' on this front. Under Prime Minister Mitsotakis, the country has become the lowest-ranked EU member state for media freedom, according to the World Press Freedom index. Mitsotakis, who also doubles as head of the secret services, has even put political rivals and journalists under surveillance using spyware.

The Slovenian Democratic Party, under former Prime Minister Janez Janša, has also exemplified the trend. A politician known for corruption scandals, vague sources of wealth, and attacks on journalists, Janša's commitment to the rule of law was weak while he was in office, to say the least. A big champion of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and a devotee of ex-US President Donald Trump, he went so far as to advance conspiracy theories about the 2020 US elections. Are these really the "people's priorities" the EPP claims to champion?

This centre-right's drift towards the unhinged has culminated in recent political developments, most notably in Italy and Sweden, where coalition agreements have seen EPP parties facilitate far-right ministers taking the reins of government and vice-versa. All this despite a well-established tendency of these movements to use democratic institutions to weaken freedom, rights, and democracy itself.

During the Italian election campaign, EPP President Manfred Weber urged Italians to vote for Forza Italia, despite party leader Silvio Berlusconi's ties to, and evident admiration for, Vladimir Putin, commitment to far-right alliances abroad, and neofascism at home in the shape of new Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni.

Weber also recently expressed his congratulations to new Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, despite his jumping into bed with the Sweden Democrats, a party that boasts founding members previously active in the now defunct Nordic Realm party (its meetings featured brown shirts, Nazi salutes, and security provided by far-right skinheads).

While Christian Democrats like Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman steered the postwar right towards internationalism and away from the politics of fear, their life's work is now being undone by their own political family.

The origins of the Christian Democratic movement arguably lie in concern for the poor, essential support for the welfare state, and elements of government intervention to curb the worst impacts of the free market on families and communities. Many EPP MEPs would still lay claim to the postwar rejection of ethnic ideologies that had wreaked such horror on Europe. But political developments in recent years have signalled a marked turn away from those values as the EPP has been fuelling a dangerous normalisation of the neofascist right.

A decade of centre-right-driven austerity and a complete disavowal of most remaining principles of social solidarity amounted to a deliberate political choice to wage class warfare against working people and the most vulnerable. A break from the principles of human rights and international law followed. For example, as long standing efforts from the far-right thwarted attempts to respond humanely to people on the move at EU level and successfully change Brussels' migration policy from one of asylum to deterrence, the centre-right's silence has been deafening.

In recent years, we have witnessed ultra-conservative governments and right-wing forces in Europe unite to attack workers, minorities, and women. Fortunately, Europe also boasts millions willing to stand up to defend the values of inclusion, equality and solidarity on which democracy is built. As in the last century, the 20s will be a decisive decade in this struggle. Christian Democrats need to decide whose side they're on.

Author bio

Martin Schirdewan and Manon Aubry are co-Presidents of The Left in the European Parliament.

Disclaimer

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

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