Europe’s new ‘Spring of Nations’?

Europe’s new ‘Spring of Nations’?

The European Parliament elections could mark another step forward for the democratic populist revolt.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics World

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The welcome return of Nigel Farage to UK politics this week evokes British memories of the last elections to the European Parliament, in 2019, which the Brexit Party won just six weeks after he launched it. Five years later, that success of course means that the UK is not involved in this week’s Euro elections. But we should all still take notice.

This time around, a Brexit-style populist revolt to ‘take back control’ from the Brussels oligarchy and the old political elites is spreading across the European Union. When close to 400million Europeans elect their own nations’ Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), between Thursday 6 and Sunday 9 June, sovereigntist and national-conservative parties are predicted to do well.

The European Parliament is a strange elected entity. Unlike sovereign national parliaments, it cannot propose and pass its own laws – all EU legislation comes first from the unelected European Commission. Also unlike national parliaments, it is not truly accountable to an electorate, since MEPs from big powers such as Germany or France can interfere in and legislate for smaller member states.

There is a case, as veteran Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko recently told the European Conservative, for arguing that: ‘The European Parliament shouldn’t exist at all. It’s aimed at some kind of future hypothetical reality when there is a European demos.’

Nevertheless, these elections do matter. The parliament has become increasingly influential in EU affairs. Moreover, in recent years, the European Commission under President Ursula von der Leyen has introduced policies that ‘Europeanise’ – that is, centralise in Brussels – power over key issues affecting European nations, from the anti-farmers Green Deal to the anti-borders Migration Pact.

These elections are also a measure of the political temperature in Europe. The hope is that they will reflect another step forward for the populist revolt.

It was fitting that the right-wing populist party that surged in Portugal’s March General Election is called Chega – ‘Enough’. The message millions of Europeans seem keen to deliver to the EU establishment is that they have all had enough of being told what is good for them.

The populist democratic revolt has upended the political order with the rise of sovereigntist and conservative parties even in such bastions of socialism and social democracy as Portugal and the Netherlands. At the heart of EU power, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) is running second in national polls, and National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen is the favourite to replace French president Emmanuel Macron.

The tractor convoys blockading roads and cities everywhere, as angry farmers protest against the ideologically driven Net Zero dogma destroying their livelihoods and communities, embody the Europe-wide character of the populist uprising. When farmers clashed with riot cops outside the European Parliament earlier this year, one banner summed up the sentiments of the farmers and the millions who back them: ‘This is Not the Europe We Want.’

There is an historic opportunity for those of us who want to defend national democracy and sovereignty in Europe. In 1848, a series of national democratic revolutions raced across Europe as people rose up against the anciens régimes of monarchies, aristocracies and unrepresentative governments. It became known as the Spring of Nations or the People’s Spring.

Now we are faced with the prospect of a new Spring of Nations in Europe. The voluntary association that is the European Union is not, of course, an old-style empire oppressing national independence. But it is a system in which power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of unelected Brussels bureaucrats and the big players; where ‘more Europe’, and thus less say for the peoples of Europe, is the elites’ answer to everything. And millions have had ‘Enough’.

The popular political uprising has caused those EU elites to recoil in horror. At the time of the People’s Spring of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their infamous Communist Manifesto, the opening of which captured the fears of the ancien régime:

‘A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: pope and tsar, [Austrian imperial statesman] Metternich and [French prime minister] Guizot, French radicals and German police-spies.’

If we were to write a revolutionary manifesto today, it might begin by capturing the fears of the left-liberal elites in response to the new Spring of Nations:

‘A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of populism. All the powers of the old EU have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre: climate pope and Commission president, Chancellor Scholz and President Macron, French Islamo-leftists and German thoughtpolice.’

The EU political establishment and its allies in the media have united in a campaign to denigrate and delegitimise the democratic revolt of our time. They want to turn populism into a dirty word, a ‘virus’ against which democracy must be vaccinated. They try to brand any protests or political movements outside the narrow mainstream as ‘far right’ extremists, who they insist should be cancelled, censored, banned or even locked up.

They try to play down the significance of the populist revolt, claiming for example that the protesting farmers are peasant dupes who are being exploited by the ‘far right’. One alleged expert has even suggested that farmers should fly LGBT rainbow flags from their tractors, presumably to ward off far-right bloodsuckers, just as garlic was supposed to keep vampires at bay.

The EU elites will also seize every opportunity to declare ‘the end of populism’, smugly announcing, for example, that the return of arch Eurocrat Donald Tusk as Poland’s prime minister last year means ‘the adults are back in charge’ and the naughty children have been sent to bed.

Yet somehow national populism refuses to lie down, repeatedly coming back with a new burst of life in one European country after another. Because contrary to the slanders put about by its detractors, the People’s Spring is not the invention of political ‘extremists’. If anything, the peoples of Europe are ahead of the populist parties in their anger at the establishment. Politicians did not organise the farmers’ protests or the protests against mass migration that have been bursting out all over the continent, but have been running to catch up.

We are witnessing the public manifestation of a deep-seated divide between two Europes. There is the one centred on the elitist citadels of Brussels, Luxembourg City or Frankfurt, where EU commissioners, judges and central bankers decide what’s best for the rest. And then there is the real one, where millions of Europeans have to deal with the consequences for their way of life.

That ever-clearer divide ensures that, wishful thinking notwithstanding, populism is not going away anytime soon. There is nothing superficial or short-term about this people’s revolt. It has been coming for a long time.

Democracy, as invented by the Ancient Athenians, had two constituent parts: demos – the people – and kratos – power or control. Since democracy re-emerged in its modern form in Europe, oligarchies have done all in their power to keep the demos and kratos as far apart as possible.

Since its inception as the European Coal and Steel Community and then the European Economic Community in the 1950s, to the European Union since 1993, the EU elite has created a system that separates power and control in Europe from any expression of the popular will. The EU’s aim remains not to ‘represent’ the peoples of Europe, but to constrain popular sovereignty and democracy.

That is why power in Brussels has been built into a top-down system of control by unaccountable commissions, courts and civil servants, running a system which former European Commission president Jacques Delors, the patrician hailed as the ‘architect’ of the European Union, described as ‘benign despotism ’.

Today, the EU establishment seeks to redefine democracy to mean whatever suits its narrow interests. It ends up trying to defend ‘democracy’ from the demos itself – the wrong sort of people, who insist on voting for the wrong sort of parties, the populists.

This dangerous trend has gone furthest in Germany, where there are serious discussions about the need to ‘defend democracy’ by banning the AfD – depriving millions of Germans of their democratic choice. The big adverts outside the European Parliament in Brussels, urging EU citizens to ‘Use Your Vote’, would be more accurate from the point of view of the Brussels powers-that-be if they said ‘Use Your Vote Responsibly – or Else…’.

Whenever they treat populism as a dirty word, I recall the definition of the p-word I found a few years ago in the Cambridge Dictionary: ‘Populism – political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.’ Giving the people what they want! That idea may fill the EU elites with horror. But we should surely embrace populism as another word for democracy.

And when they try to dismiss populist protests as ‘far right’, we should go on the offensive and turn the arguments around by identifying with the causes they have sought to smear. So, is it now ‘far right’ to hate the genocidal Islamists of Hamas and protest against anti-Semitism in Europe? Is it now ‘far right’ to support Europe’s farmers fighting to defend their livelihoods and feed the continent? Is it now ‘far right’ to insist on the biological fact that there are only two sexes and that men cannot demand to be treated as women? Or is it now ‘far right’ for parents and others to protest about children being exposed to pornographic drag shows?

Europe’s new Spring of Nations could be a great opportunity to strike a blow against the Brussels oligarchy. At a time when the woke elites have captured the powerful anti-democratic institutions of Western society, democracy itself remains our best hope of striking back. Of course, few things are certain in these elections. The lack of enthusiasm for the European Parliament means turnout can be worryingly low. But results such as the recent referendums in Ireland, where the people shocked their rulers by overwhelmingly rejecting the Dublin elites’ woke proposals to write the family out of the constitution, should fill us with hope.

Five years ago, in the 2019 EU elections, I was part of a small group in an office above a London shop, running the campaign for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Six weeks later, we won those elections with more votes than the Tory and Labour parties put together. Proof that, even in staid old Britain, anything can happen in politics these days – as Nigel now hopes to prove once more. Five years later, as the cry of ‘Enough’ and the demand to ‘take back control’ spread across Europe in the People’s Spring of 2024, it is clear that whatever happens this week, the populist, democratic genie is not going back into the Brussels bottle.

Mick Hume is a spiked columnist. The concise and abridged edition of his book, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?, is published by William Collins.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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