By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media. Originally published at Testosterone Pit
The people of Europe are finally pushing back against the European Super State, if recent polls are anything to go by. Having grown weary of being treated as lab rats in an increasingly dysfunctional economic and political experiment, a large minority of Europeans seem intent on voting for euroskeptic parties in the upcoming European elections.
The prospect is causing jitters not only among the big wigs in Brussels but also among many of Europe’s mainstream political parties, whose oligopoly on political power faces a serious threat for the first time in decades. Calculations by the Open Europe think tank suggest that hardline sceptics could take as many as 218 of the 751 seats available in the European Parliament.
In the UK, poll research shows that the most pro-European Westminster grouping – the Liberal Democrats – is about to have its European Parliamentary representation completely decimated. Indeed, so threatened do the three establishment parties in the UK feel by Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKip) that they hit back this week with a cross-party campaign to condemn it as “Euracist”, an ingenious combination of the two words “Europe” and “Racist”.
The episode serves as a timely reminder of just how dumbed down the inhabitants of Westminster have become. For not only does their latest sound bite imply that Europeans are now a common, unified race – anthropology clearly not being the UK political caste’s strong point – but it also suggests that Farage’s party is actually “racist” towards all members of this new race, including, one would assume, Britons themselves.
Put simply, the act reeks of ruthless desperation. And nowhere is the stench stronger than in Ten Downing Street whose incumbent, David Cameron, has even suggested he would resign if he failed to deliver on his pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership after the next general election. He accepted voters might be “skeptical” about his promise but insisted: “I would not continue as Prime Minister unless it can be absolutely guaranteed this referendum will go ahead on an in-out basis.”
The problem for Cameron and, by extension, his party, is that most people – even many dyed-in-the-wool Tory voters – no longer believe him. Once-bitten, twice-shy voters still remember his “cast-iron” pledge, while in opposition, to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – a pledge that turned out to be not-quite-so-cast-iron once in government. In short, an increasing number of UK voters no longer believe that any of the three mainstream parties offer any real protection against the EU’s plans for full-spectral dominance of the continent. And it’s not just in Britain: across the continent, voters are looking to the fringes for alternatives to Brussels’ authoritarian, technocratic model of governance.
“Populists”, “Extremists” and “Euracists”
In France, Marie Le Pen’s Front National is on course to humiliate Francois Hollande’s socialists in the European elections, with the latest polls suggesting that her party could gain as much as 24 percent of votes – four percentage points more than Hollande’s champagne-and-caviar socialists. In the Netherlands Gert Wilders’ Dutch Freedom Party is expected to perform just as well, setting the stage for a far-Right parliamentary bloc of 38 MEPs from at least seven countries, with the Austrian Freedom Party, Belgian Vlaams Belang, Italian Lega Nord, Slovak National Party and Sweden Democrats making up the numbers.
As for Europe’s radical leftist parties, they also expect to secure a larger presence in the European Parliament – primarily through big gains in austerity-hit Southern Europe. Leading the charge is Alex Tsipras’ Syriza party which is currently leading Greek polls. In Portugal, polls predict a 20 percent haul for far-left of centre parties, while in Spain Plural Left, of which the largest component is the communist-led United Left coalition, is hoping to garner over 10 percent of seats in the May 25 elections.
These are the so-called “populists”, “extremists” and “euracists” that will be joining the fray in Brussels once the dust has settled after the elections – and some fray it promises to be! On the one side will be an unruly coalition of far-right and nationalist groups who would like nothing better than to torpedo the European frigate once and for all – while no doubt enjoying the expenses-paid junkets that come with a political life in Brussels. On the other side of the aisle will be a motley crew of leftist parties determined to put an end to the EU’s fetish for austerity measures and bank bailouts.
Tower of Babble
Naturally, all of this will make for more entertaining political theatre in Brussels, as the EU’s stunted Tower of Babel becomes even more of a Tower of Babble. But will it actually make any significant difference in governance terms? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no — for the simple reason that the European Parliament had very limited power or influence.
Like a court eunuch, the Parliament was effectively neutered at birth. Put simply, its main mission in life is to give the wildly misleading impression that democracy actually exists in the EU. In reality, the Parliament cannot overrule the EU Commission nor can it even amend its budget on a line by line basis. Indeed, it cannot initiate legislation and it has no say whatsoever in foreign policy.
The European Parliament has no power to even hold individual members of the Commission to account. At best, it can overturn the entire executive branch, which it has done only once in its lifetime – back in 1999 when, thanks to leaks by commission-insider Paul Van Boetenin, the Parliament learnt of the irregularities, fraud and mismanagement within the Commission.
The real power in Brussels resides in the European Commission, the European Council of national leaders and the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers – three unelected institutions that are subject to virtually no democratic checks or balances.
A New Parliament, A New Commission
The first test the new parliament will likely face is to select the president of the European Commission. The EU’s executive body will for the first time be chosen under the provisions of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which states that the European Council of EU leaders nominates the candidate “taking account of the elections of the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations”. This does not by any means guarantee that the elected “representatives” of the people will actually have a direct say in the selection.
But even if they do, the chances are that the choices available will not offer any kind of meaningful change in the direction of EU policy. Indeed, the list of candidates reads like a Who’s Who of European establishment politics and bureaucracy. The two favourites for the position are Martin Schultz, the bearded, table-thumping German social democrat who currently serves as president of the European Parliament; and Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime-minister of Luxembourg who in 2011, as president of the Eurogroup, famously said “when things get serious you have to lie.”
Also on the list is the current IMF chief Christine Lagarde, two failed Italian prime-ministers (Mario Monti and Enrico Letta), Spain’s current Minister of the Economy (and former Lehman Brothers’ banker) Luis de Guindos, and former Spanish premier José Luis Zapatero. Granted, the list does include a sprinkling of less compromised individuals, such as Alexis Tsipras and the Swedish Pirate Party’s 27-year-old representative Amelia Andersdotter. However, as the EU’s own website notes, their chances of being selected are pathetically slim.
If there’s one thing that the last five years of European crisis management (if that’s what you can call it) has shown, it is that the EU, like the late Maggie T, is not for turning. As current Commission President José Manuel Barroso has repeated time and again, there is no plan B in Brussels’ agenda. As such, one can expect any changes that do occur to be at best cosmetic in nature. And while there may be more bluster, blather and drama in Parliament and the ferocious rubber stamping of new EU laws and regulations may be slowed somewhat, the real power will remain in the same hands, and the owners of those hands are determined that the experiment will continue — damned the consequences!
As I wrote in “Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Silent Assassination of European Democracy”, the European elite has thus far masterfully exploited Europe’s economic decline and crisis of nation-state democracy and the resultant voter disaffection and apathy to enshrine a new system of rule by bureaucrats, bankers, technocrats and lobbyists. If anything, we can expect this trend to accelerate in 2014 as the Eurocrats seek to consolidate their power grab through the imposition of EU-wide banking and fiscal union. Once that’s done, the quest for the holy grail of full-blown political union will begin in earnest.
However, whatever the eurocrats might believe, it is by no means a fait accompli. The European Dream is one of modern history’s most ambitious (and most deeply flawed) experiments in political, social and economic re-engineering, and for it to work it needs, at least for just a little longer, the continued passive compliance of a majority of the experiment’s subjects – that is, the 500 million-or-so European lab rats whose lives it seeks to transform beyond all recognition — and certainly not for the better.
But the rats are finally wising up to the mad scientists’ devious plans for them, and growing ranks of them are mounting a mutiny in the laboratory. This May’s elections are just the beginning.