The far-right in Europe use artificial concepts to approach power. It evokes a liberating “patriotism,” a “Europe of peaceful nations” and a relentless struggle against the economic “elites” of this “bureaucratic and despotic” Europe.
We don’t hear it anymore, do we? After Brexit’s drama, no one talks about leaving the EU any longer. It is as if a kind of generalised Alzheimer’s disease had spread. Europe’s nationalist, xenophobic, racist, homophobic and ultraconservative right-wing parties, although ultraliberal in economic terms, and therefore elitist, no longer have the objective of leaving the EU as a solution to all evils. Now the new fashion in the far-right camp is to propose a “different” Europe, a “Europe of nations,” which sounds better, even though it is the same as admitting their intention to sink it.
The Europe of nations is a concept that may sound appealing because, on the one hand, it conveys the idea of a “reform in favour of the people” of the structure of the European Union. On the other hand, it gives rise to a nationalist fantasy in which all nations selfishly prioritise themselves but at the same time live in harmony. Each one with its own identity, but looking out only for itself. Pretty, isn’t it?, if it wasn’t just a mirage.
Let’s not be fooled: Le Pen, Salvini, Orbán, Kaczyński, Abascal, Vlaams Belang and all their allies at European and international level sell smoke and they know it. They use linguistic artifices to make acceptable what is not. However, there are two original fallacies that could seem legitimate if they are listened to without attention: their ideal of a “Europe of Nations” and their fight against the ruthless elites. It’s time that we take the time to review both of them.
The Europe of nations
There are still many in Europe who are rightly frightened when someone proposes to move towards a federal model, in which diversity is respected but coordination between the different parts of the common entity is also applied. However, moving towards a model where “national” sovereignty is lost in order to gain shared sovereignty and be stronger in the world is not idealistic – it is simply the only way to be free today.
It may sound crude or false, but today there is no alternative to a federal model of Europe because the other option is war. Yet, federalism does not mean one single path, there are rather numerous proposals on how to organize that unity, some more progressive, others more liberal, even conservative or leftist, but never nationalist. In reality, let’s be clear about this: those who do not accept a federal model of Europe (whatever the form it may take) are defending a confederal Europe, a Europe of Nations.
Confederations have two main characteristics: on the one hand, they resort to unanimity for most of their decisions, which leads to permanent blockage, and on the other hand, their members can leave it whenever they wish. This is the model that right-wing extremists in Europe are defending. What they do not say, however, is that nobody in their right mind would support them because there are only two confederal examples in history, Switzerland and the US, and both ended in a war, which in turn led to the consolidation of federations. Confederations tend to war because they are unstable and they are unstable because, by their very definition, these are political systems that suffer a permanent blackmail by their members, which always threaten other nations with quitting the club. In this context, member states negotiate but, if they do not get what they want, they can leave. To avoid it, the rest of the members concede. It is a disastrous model because, over time, other players on the table learn the game and apply it, which in the end generates a series of centrifugal incentives that can only lead to disintegration. Confederations are unstable systems because they are always questioning their own essence.
There are two alternatives to the confederal model: the unitary model, that is, all nations equal and abiding by the same rules coming from the capital; or the federal model, in which every nation can organise itself as its citizens wish within the limits imposed by the harmonious functioning of the whole. Le Pen, Salvini and company, therefore, who claim to be in favour of this “Europe of Nations” are not trying to build another kind of EU, but to make it implode. There is no need to get out of it, they say, because it will not exist. That fact that this is their plan is evident every time all far-right parties gather together because, despite their efforts to conceal it, they only agree that they do not agree. Neither on the question of migrants, nor on how to manage the economy, nor on how to set European trade rules. There is no understanding among them because they are all trying to sweep home. And we already know where you end up when you operate with such a level of selfishness.
Patriots with offshore bank accounts
The only thing that unites them is their common enemy, the EU, which they paint as a fortress of elitist bureaucrats who only act in favour of the big lobbies. They are partly right. This is why, their narrative goes on, their parties will defend the peoples of Europe from globalisation, as good nationalists to be trusted. It is just a shame that these so-called “proud nationalists” are advised by a foreigner, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s ideologue, who provides his advice from his millionaire flat in the centre of Rome or, as it was the case during the European elections, from a 2500€ per night room at the Bristol Hotel in Paris.
Their nationalism is like that of those who a few years ago could not stop praising Spain while they owned several bank accounts in Switzerland – very coherent. Their language is that of fear and their politics is that of conspiracy. For example, when Salvini was part of the Italian government, he used to blame Brussels (or international organisations) for how badly the Italian economy was doing, arguing that they were plotting against his government to make it fall. If you were waiting for some dose of self-criticism for the way he was managing the economy you were certainly disappointed.
The extreme right is nourished by the rejection of EU’s austerity policies and by the feeling that lobby companies rule Brussels. When they criticise the liberal policies of the EU, however, they do not explain that their proposals are much more ultraliberal in economic terms, not only because they benefit the wealthiest, but because they are socially ultraconservative, meaning that they systematically suppress minority rights and silence individuals who do not commune with their ideas. And yet, there is nothing like resentment to become anti-everything and vote for them. You could become anti-women, anti-migrants, anti-homosexuals, anti-whoever-is-happier-and-luckier-than-you, but unfortunately, you will not find a remedy in these hatred. Only more pain.
It is hard to imagine a greater scandal than the one that arose on 17th May 2019, which put the far-right in front of its own contradictions. A high-definition video, dating from 2017, showed that Austrian far-right vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, offered lucrative public contracts to a young woman allegedly linked to a Russian oligarch in exchange for financial support for his party. This video alone should have ruined their speech for good, but it did not because they have developed a complex communications strategy.
During the conversation, recorded in Ibiza a week before the parliamentary elections in Austria, Strache also commented on the possibility that the Russian investor could take control of an Austrian popular newspaper to support his far-right party, the FPÖ, and mentioned the media control strategy of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, also a far-right member of the European People’s Party.
The revelations caused such a political earthquake that Strache had to resign as vice-chancellor and head of his party, triggering the fall of the Austrian government. Unfortunately, this scandal was not only about Austria: it confirmed the worst suspicions about the links of these far-right parties with Russian power structures, as these nationalists may be actually selling the general interest of their nations to Russia, which is trying to manipulate EU’s public opinions for its own interests. These revelations hovered over the great nationalist mass taking place on 18 May 2019 in Milan, hosted by Salvini along with ten other far-right parties, including Marine Le Pen’s French Rassemblement National. If the latter tried to save its image by condemning Strache’s “serious negligence,” Salvini preferred to remain silent.
Concepts such as a “Europe of nations,” “nationalism,” or the “defense of the weak” may be appealing to a more conservative public, but in the mouths of far-right leaders these words are void. These concepts, when thought through, are actually putting at risk not only our security, but also our way of life and our freedom to be and think whatever we want to be and think as fully autonomous citizens.