Sunday, 2 June 2013

On the Rise of Extremism in Europe

On March 14 2013, I had the privilege to host the Greek Public Policy Forum’s fourth event in Strasbourg, during the European Parliament’s Plenary Session. The topic explored was ‘The Rise of Extremism in Europe’. This is a phenomenon I have been noticing with increasing alarm, one which puts the whole European project in jeopardy.

The Strasbourg forum discussed the causes and common patterns that lead to the rise of extremism, as well as its relation with the economic crisis. To analyse the patterns, the political party Golden Dawn and its staggering rise in popularity in Greece was used as the particular case study.

Around the same time as the panel took place in Strasbourg, racism and xenophobia was debated in the European Parliament. The same week, the Europeanist Jean-Claude Junker stated that ‘Europe’s nationalist demons have not been banished’. As I mentioned in my response to Mr Junker, it is the deteriorating economic circumstances that are driving the extremist tendencies we are witnessing in Europe. Necessity, not believe is what makes normal citizens turning to Golden Dawn. This party is seen as the only one who can help, the only one who is ‘doing something’ for the Greeks in these hard times.
On top of deteriorating economic circumstances, over the past year more and more illegal immigrants have been coming through Greece into Europe. Many are then sent back to Greece as it is the country of arrival. The crime and deterioration of certain urban areas is blamed on them; with the harsh austerity measures Greeks have had to endure, the ‘other’ becomes a convenient scapegoat. From 2011 to 2013, Golden Dawn has been steadily gaining power and influence in Greece. As I mentioned at the conference, it is striking how Golden Dawn’s rise in austerity-ridden Greece resemblances that of Hitler’s during the Pre-Weimar Republic.
But it is not just Greece that is experiencing this extremist phenomenon. Ultra nationalist, anti-European parties are using the illegitimacy of the Troika as proof that the EU is no longer a good thing. Less extremist, but ultra-national anti-European parties are gaining ground in other countries; in the United Kingdom, UKIP is expected to top the polls at the next European elections. As the Euro-crisis drags on, so the popularity of the EU wanes. The Pew Research Centre recently published a survey that has been widely circulated, dubbing the EU the ‘new sick man of Europe’. Moreover, the Secretary General of the International Red Cross has warned of the risk of unrest across Europe that may be the effects of austerity measures and high unemployment.  One need only see the staggering rise of youth unemployment across the EU to come to the conclusion that social unrest could explode at any given moment.
It is high time we remembered that the European project was forged in an attempt to establish sustainable peace and discourage national extremism. What is needed is a strengthening of these core values, as mentioned in an astute article by Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times. These core values and Schuman’s idea of a ‘de-facto’ solidarity must urgently be communicated if we are to keep the EU from getting lost in the mire of populism.
So, how can this be done? At the Strasbourg forum, one conclusion on Golden Dawn’s rise was that people rally around a singular cause; a strong idea that unites them; in this case, an anti-immigration policy. The one-concept model which allowed Golden Dawn to flourish also made the Green movement popular. In the conference, I expressed the wish to make such an experiment with this model: since we need a new narrative for a Europe, I propose it is embodied by a pro-European election list. This European list that would go back to the ideal of a political union; it would be a Europe that shows real solidarity amongst member states. In my view, we need ‘More Europe’ in a federal sense, with a clear decision making process and clear control by the European Parliament. Judging by the response of the conference participants, I believe we have reasons to be optimistic.
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, MEP

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