When David Cameron announced in 2013 his decision to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain or leave the EU, the conservatives believed this would have put a stop to the trend of populists who were talking about an exit from the EU and at the same time score a political win in his game of partisan politics.
Obviously they underestimated the danger coming out of the populist camp and at the same overestimated their own capabilities. A few years later Cameron is history and his party is disintegrating, while the same is not true for Nigel Farage, the head of the Brexit campaign who sank his country into political chaos. Farage is back stronger today, fighting the EU on the one hand but also utilizing the same schizophrenia to get MEP’s elected on the Brexit party ticket and take part in a European-wide populist campaign.
Britain along with the chaos that has taken over the country is the biggest sign of what dangerous populism can do if it is underestimated. But it is not the only example. Case in point is the classic example with Orban in Hungary. The European Peoples Party had ignored his racist and xenophobic rhetoric until reacted and froze his participation when he started his campaign on the narrative that Brussels was trying to weaken member states in defending their borders as well as cut funding to countries that stood against migration. It remains to be seen what will be his position and power the day after the election.
In France, on the other hand, the impending elections are but a repeat of the 2017 presidential bid between Le Pen and Macron. Le Pen, of course, after her loss is coming back stronger and is ahead in the polls according to opinion polls. “To save Europe, you have to turn away from the EU,” she said among other things, condemning the Eurozone and calling for control at the borders.
Anyone who feels nostalgic for those who turned Europe into a bloodbath has no business in having a role in the affairs of the European parliament
Matteo Salvini from the racist and xenophobic LEGA, is along the same lines and he is attempting to form a group from these parties that share the same racist views.
So what happens in Cyprus? ELAM is seeking to get the sixth seat, which would be a boost for the far right movement, racism and euroskepticism. During the 2016 parliamentary elections, this party was funded by the Neo-Nazi party in Germany (NPD) with which it maintains strong ties. This is a party with members linked to the underworld. A party that bows to Greece’s Golden Dawn and even declares itself a branch of it, that very same Golden Dawn whose leader goes on raving about being “the offspring of the defeated in 1945.”
So many have to answer to this reinforcement of extreme elements that are threatening the European project but also, first and foremost, democracy itself. These are the ruling parties that underestimated the far right movement, even flirted with it so they could climb to power, and have adopted its conservative talking points today so that that could stop the loss of supporters.
Of course these are the stakes the day after and we have to be resolute. They cannot be the response to the anger and problems of society. The prayer beads that they show, the soup kitchens they organize, the jackets they gift to schools, are simply bait. All those who feel nostalgic for those who turned Europe into a bloodbath have no business in having a role in the affairs of the European parliament.
The fear, bigotry, and racism they profess won’t save Europe. Europe will be rescued by hope and those who truly believe in its values, for they are the only ones who can fix vulnerabilities and manage its weaknesses.
The article was first published by Kathimerini Cyprus on 26 May 2019