Posted on 26-05-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The European project has brought an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity to Western Europe.  When it was conceived in the ash heaps of World War II, the extent of its success could hardly be imagined.  After 1,000 years of hostility France and Germany would work to build a new Europe.  Yet over the past 20 years it is hard to avoid the impression that Europes elites are losing the argument with their own people.

The elitism has been on display since the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union.  It took Denmark two referendums to approve the treaty.  The French approved it with the support of barely 51% of voters.  Yet the elites soldiered on.  Later treaties amending the Maastricht Treaty (the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon) were generally kept safe from the vagaries of the voting public, after the Irish voters rejected each treaty in their first referendums necessitating a second referendum to approve the treaty.

Rather than the voters, parliaments would approve the treaty.  This is not uncommon in representative democracies.  The problem is that other than the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom almost every mainstream party in Europe is pro-Europe.  This short circuited the debates over increasing tensions over the loss of national sovereignty, the effect of unrestricted immigration and the effect of binding together the continent in a currency union via the Euro without the fiscal and banking unions to make it work.

The great recession has laid bare the fundamental flaws in the half-assed approach to creating a United States of Europe without political and fiscal union.  Stuck in the Eurozone, Southern Europe no longer has the flexibility to devalue its currency.  Germany the primary creditor to Southern Europe caught up in its historical nightmares of hyperinflation (and also benefiting from a stronger Euro) will not let the Euro devalue.  Even worse, it has insisted on insane fiscal austerity that has turned recessions into depressions.

Economic malaise haunts the Eurozone.  Xenophobic parties are on the rise across Europe.  Last week came the first signs that political retribution may be at hand.

The United Kingdom Independence Party has long been dismissed as a bunch of racist kooks.  The UKIP won a surprising victory in local elections held across England, which will send a shiver down the spine of the main three political parties in the UK.  They followed that up by winning the most seats in the European Parliament elections. It must be noted that the British government has also reacted to the recession by double dip recession inducing austerity.

Likewise in France the xenophobic National Front beat the more established parties in the elections to the European Parliament. Far right parties also did well in Denmark, Austria and Hungary.

Europe’s elites ignore this resentment at their own peril.  It is troubling that the elites in Brussels are still in denial about the real pain their policies have caused outside their ivory towers and attribute it to a failure of “national will.”

While, the UKIP and the National Front still poll under 30% of the national vote and it is unlikely they will actually seize power in either country they have tapped into a rich vein of resentment at the way the European Project has been hurtling across to union without taking into account the sentiments of the countries involved.  The rise of economic immigration from Eastern Europe into countries that are not immigrant societies has aggravated ethnic tensions that allows xenophobes to flourish.  The debates between the UKIP’s Nigel Farrage and the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg were a demonstration that the elites were losing the argument with the public. The election results have confirmed that.

It is time for Europe’s elites to engage in some introspection before economic turmoil puts the European project into jeopardy.

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