The European elections confirmed the existence of a new reality in Europe. This one involves us directly and has the ability to influence the overall European policy. The Eurosceptic gauntlet was thrown, both a challenge for Member States and European institutions.
When is extremism boosted? When the existing gaps and vulnerabilities in our society are becoming worse, chronic and attractive for using. When societal traumas become axioms. When society speaks about them, but very often and without solutions. When discussions hide behind a technocratic, complicated and insensitive language.
When the “full grown” vulnerabilities, frustrations and traumas become a part of many generations’ DNA. They become important, semi-generalized and present issues in the public opinion knowledge.
We know that extremism grows together with societal wounds. They are twins. Symbiotic twins. Nor could it be otherwise. They feed on each other’s anger. A perfect couple.
Extremism needs big problems for being important. If they aren’t big enough, they should be amplified. “Only a great cause may require a messianic solution.”
But extremism itself has no solutions, he doesn’t have the key for solving issues. He claims to be “the solution”. More specifically, its inner anger and frustration.
But solutions cannot be born out from anger.
Where does the force of extremism come? From voice amplification and segregation. One voice, two, ten, a thousand, a million voices. 8%, 12%, 18% … 25% … Until it has a chain-reacting amount. Enough for destroying.
Extremism claims to bear in its structure the Schumpeter’s constructive destruction. But it doesn’t. And not because he destroys without having something to put in place. The result depends on hazard. And usually is made of tears, blood and sacrificed generations. Yes, the word is not accidental. Sacrificed, not lost.
The extremism moves and grows quickly, like any plague, in geometric progression. Hence the extremely short reaction time of those who want to stop him. The bare truth is that timely interventions were rarely successful.
The extremism seeds are omnipresent. In all societies and in all times. They just need proper conditions.
Extremist leaders appear very easy. They don’t have to be very intelligent, well-trained, they don’t need a special skill or any special empathy.
They just have to be very active, vocal and with a credibility air. If they can assume a divine mission, the better. They need a certain deafness and myopia otherwise they will be under the risk of taking rational solutions, even if they exist.
What is the proper soil for the growth of the extremist seeds?
The population’s frustrations. They appear from a sense of insecurity, lack of wealth, a big gap between expectations (founded or not) and reality, meaning disappointment and, most importantly, lack of TRUST.
TRUST is the most important indicator. In fact, it is much more. It is the pillar of social relations.
Trust urges, enhances development. The interpersonal relationships are based on trust. The lack of trust destroys the relations in society. Indicator, mood, condition. Absolutely necessary and often sufficient.
But highly perishable. Trust is hardly built and very easy to lose.
Why did the sense of confidence diminished in the European space?
The answer cannot be singular. A strong, disturbing, difficult response, with a pejorative connotation. But one undeniable truth: bad governance. Poor governance (both political and economic) of leaders and institutions.
And if poor European governance wouldn’t be bad enough, it continuously combines and multiplies with poor governance of many European nation states.
Responsibility? Somewhere in the middle, meaning nowhere. Unpopular policies and measures or poor results are presented as national electorates imposed by Brussels. This is an abstract, intangible and hard to punish entity. An obvious manipulation because all EU decisions are taken only after some tough negotiations, the European Council of heads of states and governments must unanimously vote in order to make a decision. How can you vote unanimously, “for” a certain decision, then get back home and say the decisions were imposed? Hard to explain!
On the other hand, the lack of action and of a common EU vision are thrown onto divergent national interests of Member States.
A permanent responsibility cleavage. The result is a gap between European citizens (with all his needs) and European institutions and leaders. A loss of credibility and legitimacy. A decrease in confidence. And this is how EU as a whole gives to extremists an answer: we need a united Europe!
How do populist extremist parties in Europe look like?
The most visible rise in the elections for the European Parliament was that of the extreme right National Front led by Marine Le Pen. Her party won 25% of votes, being the first party, unlike the results of elections in 2009 when he managed to get only 6.3%. In second place came the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), with 20.3%, and in the third place was the Socialist Party (PS), with 15%.
After reaching the second round of presidential elections in 2002, a real surprise, the support for the National Front has increased. Although it’s not in government, its significant support has allowed FN to influence the mainstream politics, especially under the leadership of charismatic Marine Le Pen who shifted the party’s image from an extremist organization to one more connected with the interests of the French public.
The same scenario is also found in Great Britain, where Nigel Farage’s party, UKIP, scored a decisive victory, achieving 27.5% of votes, outpacing traditional British parties. The Danish People’s Party had the same performance, with 23% of the vote.
Far right has been repeatedly ranked third or second in elections, managing to play a key role in maintaining government coalitions, like the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Parties such as True Finns in Finland, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, the Austrian Freedom Party, the National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary, UKIP in the UK, the Northern League and the 5 Stars Movement in Italy have gained between 10% and 25% of votes in various elections, making them credible political force.
An important aspect to note is that these parties or platforms are different and they have folded on the best messages in their countries. All have benefited from the wave created by the European crisis and have been consolidated in a context of citizens’ disappointment towards the main political parties and institutions. Euro-scepticism and lack of trust created a fertile ground for the anti-systemic parties.
In addition, the national component is very strong. For example, the True Finns party is against using the Swedish language, while Ataka in Bulgaria combats the perceived threat from Turkey. In Hungary, the nationalistic trend is very obvious.
Right-wing populist movements obtained such performances and they came with new strategies, effective ways of organizing, because they reinvented by coming closer to citizens and they were widely accepted. They created a more proper status. They tempered their image, gave up traditional fascist symbols and promoted charismatic leaders; who were sometimes women (see Norway, Denmark and France).
They increased their public presence through greater use of social media, approaching the young and those disappointed by the lack of employment opportunities. Under this new packaging is actually hiding the right-wing, a radicalization of policy options that would violate fundamental human rights if they are put into practice and the simplest example is the traditional anti-immigrant discourse, or generally “AGAINST”.
This allowed them to respond to new issues and events in an apparently more innovative and more efficient manner than other parties. Until mainstream parties will begin to change their approaches and address the fears and the real needs of voters, extremist parties will continue to gain support for a new generation of citizens. If politicians and policymakers will face this challenge, it is necessary to reconsider the approach towards extremism in its present manifestation.
Although this new ideological wave – populism, extremism – is difficult to define, there are several recurring features identified by European research centres which paid special attention to this topic in the last year:
• They promote direct democracy, supporting a direct link between government and people and rejecting the political system;
• They provide immediate and demagogic solutions to everyday problems;
• They spread simplistic and antagonistic images such as a sovereign nation, “normal” people versus “corrupt” and “technocratic elites”;
• They idealize the nation and its perceived traditions, fuelling criticism on any supranational political system;
• They have an anti-globalization discourse aimed at protecting vulnerable people from the consequences of existing competition.
Hostility towards immigration remains relatively widespread. This hostility is determined less by economic grievances and more by a sense of cultural threat: a large number of people believe that there are too many immigrants in their countries, the minority groups are perceived as a burden on social services and they are deeply concerned about the impact of these changes on culture and national community.
For example, an European study examining the factors influencing public attitudes on immigration finds that concerns about cultural unity are nine times more important than concerns about criminality and five times more important than concerns about the economy.
Being on an upward popularity trend, the European radical movements are detrimental to the health of European democracies. Under their popular image, the “against” agenda and nationalism remains a threat to human rights and to European construction.
The extremist speeches undermined the quality of public debate, suggesting a weak reasoning and black – and – white arguments for disillusioned electorate. Using their charisma, their rhetorical skills and social media (as did Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Beppe Grillo), the radical parties have simplified complex social problems, they divided the social groups and proposed completely demagogic solutions. The democracy defenders have played an important and difficult role in continuing to educate and warn people about the damage caused by radical populist movements, especially to simplify complex problems into “us” versus “them”.
How is bad European governance translated?
Let’s look at some examples of notoriety. Just a few.
A policy of irrational, misunderstood and poorly applied austerity: hundreds of billions allocated for saving failing banks versus 6 billion allocated to a program for reducing youth unemployment, introduced too late when a lost generation already occurred; lack of a common, coherent and constructive labor migration within the EU; a common budget of 1% of segregated GDP, a budget that is not enough even for entertainment let alone for a significant joint construction; a far exceeded and anchored government program – the bases and assumptions on which the 2020 Strategy was built are not the same, and this translated into objectives no longer able to “touch” the European citizen; lack of a common army; lack of a common foreign policy to transcend the foreign policy of the Member States; lack of economic vision and common exports strategy; the inability to complete important agreements with other transnational blocs (ASEAN, MERCOSUR) … and so on.
All this creates the potential of a bad or weak governance. Their effects produce those frustrations that feed extremism and populism.
There is no alternative to Europe!
How can we keep it? How can we suppress extremism? By simply removing its causes. And the only logical and obvious answer is: good governance!
Europe must “deliver” welfare and safety to its citizens. Both in the same time. Welfare cannot be achieved without security and there can’t be built no security without prosperity. European welfare and security can be achieved in an inclusive, sustainable and integrated manner.
Thus, the European construct will be able to bring all what’s best in our societies, not everything what’s bad, how things are happening now.
Welfare and security of European citizens are the only medicine against extremism. And they can only be the result of “good governance.”
Author : Adrian Marius Dobre