Euroskeptics Sympathetic as Greeks Vote Down Austerity

Euroskeptics were sympathetic in their response to the Greek “no” vote on Sunday, seeing it as a vindication of their long-held doubts about the euro.

Syed Kamall, the British Conservative who leads the European Parliament’s third largest bloc, the European Conservatives and Reformists, said the Greek bailout referendum “will shake the notion of some European leaders who believe that the peoples of European nations will always blindly vote for further integration and will always take rather than leave the offer on the table.”

He called on European leaders not to “punish” the Greeks for their “democratic choice.” Read more “Euroskeptics Sympathetic as Greeks Vote Down Austerity”

Dutch, French Nationalists to Form Euroskeptic Bloc

Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Front national, listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Claude Truong-Ngoc)

Dutch and French nationalists said on Monday they finally had enough support to form a bloc in the European Parliament with other Euroskeptic and anti-immigration parties.

The group, called Europe of Nations and Freedoms, was due to be announced at a news conference on Tuesday and would be led by France’s Front national and the Dutch Freedom Party.

The former won 24 seats in last year’s European Parliament elections, more than the ruling Socialists and opposition conservatives. But it failed to find enough allies in order to qualify for subsidies and committee seats.

A bloc must have at least 25 members from seven member states.

Defections

Politico reports that the new group will include one member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which is the largest in the rival Euroskeptic bloc led by Nigel Farage.

A Front national member previously defected to Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, which has 46 out of 751 seats in the Strasbourg assembly.

Before the last election, the Front‘s Marine Le Pen teamed up with the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders whose Freedom Party is the country’s fifth largest. They formed an alliance with separatist parties from Belgium and Italy as well as the Freedom Party of Austria, leaving them two nationalities short.

Specter of the far right

Th two leaders ruled out alliances with fascist parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik. But according to Politico, one Jobbik member would join their group now anyway to bring them up to the required seven.

Jobbik is openly antisemitic and seen as neo-Nazi by many Western commentators. It nevertheless got 20 percent support in parliamentary elections last year and has three out of Hungary’s 21 seats in the European Parliament.

Farage has refused to do business with the Front, saying it is still antisemitic despite Le Pen’s efforts to detoxify the party.

Since taking over as leader in 2011, Le Pen has tried to get rid of far-right elements and transformed the party her father, Jean-Marie, founded in 1972 into a broader nationalist movement that advocates protectionist economic policies as well as French exits from the eurozone and NATO.

Wilders’ party appears to have peaked at around 15 percent support. It is less protectionist than the Front and pro-Israel, but similarly wants the Netherlands to leave the euro.

Farage refuses to cooperate with Wilders because of his strong anti-Islam positions.

Combined, Farage’s and Le Pen’s blocs would be larger than the mildly Euroskeptic Conservatives and Reformists which are now the third largest group. It includes Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, the Finns Party — which joined the Nordic country’s government last month — and Poland’s Law and Justice.

Correction: After this story was published, it emerged no one from Jobbik would join the Europe of Nations and Freedoms group. Rather, the Polish Congress of the New Right’s two members would: another far-right party Le Pen and Wilders earlier refused to caucus with.

European Right is Allowing Putin’s Friends to Monopolize Anti-Islamism

French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk march with other world leaders in Paris, January 11
French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk march with other world leaders in Paris, January 11 (Bundesregierung)

By continuing to denounce “Islamophobia” even after the bloody attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Europe’s mainstream right is allowing nationalists who also sympathize with Russian president Vladimir Putin to monopolize popular resistance against radical Islam.

In France, Socialist Party president François Hollande failed to invite representatives of the far-right Front national to a national remembrance ceremony for those killed by Muslim extremists in attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a Jewish supermarket in Paris last week.

Yet it is the Front that sees its anti-Islamism vindicated by the attacks. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who is more popular than Hollande according to polls, urged the French not to mince words. “This is a terrorist act committed in the name of radical Islamism,” she said. “Denial and hypocrisy are no longer an option.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has censured anti-Islam demonstrations and accused their participants of racism. Numbering in the tens of thousands, the protesters, who call themselves Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, say they fear an “Islamization” of Germany as a result of high immigration from Muslim countries.

The movement’s demands look far from extreme. It calls for immigration and integration policies to mirror those of neighboring Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The German political and media establishment’s reaction to the protests has been way out of proportion to what they call for. Rather than taking seriously the concerns of voters and admitting the real impact immigration has on housing and welfare policy as well as policing, Germany’s leaders compare citizens who are peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Dresden with Nazis. In doing so, they are only confirming the protesters in their anti-establishment views and convincing others, who might share their worries, that there is no hope of achieving change through the established parties.

If Lutz Bachmann, the anti-Islam movement’s founder, is to be believed, the German “patriots” not only seek tighter immigration controls and better integration of newcomers into German society; they also want an “end to warmongering, among other things against Russia.”

It is unclear to what extent anti-Islam and pro-Russian sentiments overlap in Germany. It is clearer they do in other countries.

Le Pen openly admires Putin and her party got an €9 million loan from a Russian bank last year. Pierre Lellouche, a mainstream conservative French politician, told NPR in December “there is a mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values” in Russia that appeals to European nationalists. Moreover, he said, Russia was presenting itself “as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.”

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, has also expressed admiration for Putin while the Austrian Freedom Party defended his occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Notably absent from Putin’s European fanbase is the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. Although the anti-Islam politician blamed the European Union more than Russia for instigating last year’s unrest in Ukraine, his party also sharply criticized Putin after the downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July in which almost two hundred Dutch passengers died. The rebels who shot down the aircraft were likely armed by Russia.

Wilders, who allied with Le Pen in last year’s European Parliament elections, has been critical of Islam since before he became a Euroskeptic and the Netherlands coped with rising anti-immigration sentiment more than a decade ago when populist leader Pim Fortuyn first suggested multiculturalism had failed as a policy.

Like Germany’s anti-Islamists today, Fortuyn was denounced as a racist and a xenophobe by much of his country’s establishment. After he was killed in 2002, however, right-wing parties began to co-opt his policies. Multiculturalism was recognized for what it was: an excuse for doing nothing at best; an excuse for relegating foreigners to big-city ghettos at worst. Learning Dutch became a requirement for citizenship. History and values courses were introduced. Immigration was curtailed and police began to specifically target repeat offenders from ethnic backgrounds, something that would previously have been considered racist.

Mainstream right-wing parties in France, Germany and elsewhere should take a lesson from their Dutch counterparts. The Netherlands’ Christian Democrat and liberal parties cannot outbid Wilders’ anti-Islamism but they can give voters who worry about Muslim radicalization and the existence of a permanent migrant underclass that strains the country’s welfare system a better choice. Between Wilders’ proposal to shut the borders and the left’s refusal to see the problem — although even the Labor Party has come around to Fortuyn’s views — the Christian Democrats and liberals offer a workable policy of tackling radicalization and improving the integration of mainly Muslim immigrants and their descents into Dutch society.

Chancellor Merkel recognized in 2010 that multiculturalism has “utterly failed” yet she has since given the Germans no alternative. All she says now is that fears of Islamization are tantamount to racism.

President Hollande, while offering valiant defenses of French democracy and freedom, insists fanaticism and terrorism “have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” The fanatics and terrorists, of course, disagree and so do shockingly many other Muslims in Europe who would never turn to violence but do believe blasphemy should be punishable by death and that Western Islamophobia is as much to blame for last week’s horrors in Paris as is the perversion of their faith.

As long as European leaders — like Merkel — won’t come up with answers to radical Islam and the failing integration of many Muslims into Western society, or — like Hollande — deny there is even a problem, far-right parties will turn to the uncompromising Russian president for protection and more and more voters will turn to far-right parties as the only ones offering any kind of response.

The obvious solution is for conservatives and liberals — and preferably leftists, too — to stand up for European values and demand that those who want to make a life here share those values. To those who won’t, they should say, as the Labor Party mayor or Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, did last week: “Pack your bags and leave.”

Dutch Freedom Party Leader Says Euroskeptic Bloc Failed

French and Dutch nationalist party leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in The Hague, November 13
French and Dutch nationalist party leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in The Hague, November 13 (AP/Peter Dejong)

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders admitted on Tuesday his and France’s Marine Le Pen’s attempts to form a second Euroskeptic bloc in the European Parliament had failed.

Last week, Britain’s Nigel Farage found enough allies to continue his group, Europe of Freedom and Democracy, thanks to the defection of one member from Le Pen’s Front national.

Like Le Pen and Wilders, Farage advocates a withdrawal from the European Union for his country but unlike those other party leaders, he is not strongly opposed to immigration nor particularly critical of Islam.

Wilders, who rose to prominence in the Netherlands as an Islam critic before becoming Euroskeptic, told Dutch media his Freedom Party was unwilling to form a European group “at any price.” He added that cooperating with the conservative Congress of the New Right from Poland would have been “a bridge too far.” Read more “Dutch Freedom Party Leader Says Euroskeptic Bloc Failed”

Euroskeptics Win Election in France, Lose in Netherlands

French and Dutch nationalist party leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in The Hague, November 13, 2013
French and Dutch nationalist party leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in The Hague, November 13, 2013 (AP/Peter Dejong)

Right-wing Euroskeptic parties in France and the Netherlands did well in local elections last week. But whereas Marine Le Pen’s Front national vastly improved its reach, support for Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party dropped slightly in the cities where it competed. A party mutiny has since thrown his prospects for May’s European Parliament election in doubt.

The Front national reached the second-round runoffs in more than two hundred French cities and towns on Sunday, beating President François Hollande’s Socialists into third place, notably in the port city of Marseille.

It also won its first mayoral seat outright since 1995.

While the opposition conservatives made the biggest gains, winning 46.5 percent of the total first-round vote, Le Pen could with some justification claim to have broken up France’s two-party system. Read more “Euroskeptics Win Election in France, Lose in Netherlands”

Dutch Populist Leader Doubles Down on Anti-Moroccan Remark

Geert Wilders
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens to a court proceeding in Amsterdam, June 23, 2011 (Reuters/Robin Utrecht)

Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders doubled down on a racist chant on Saturday, blaming the media and political opponents for misrepresenting his words in order to disparage him. “I said nothing wrong,” he insisted. “I’m not sorry.”

Wilders’ statement followed the resignation of two Freedom Party parliamentarians and the group’s leader in the European Parliament, Laurence Stassen. Several local deputies resigned from the party as well or threatened to step down. It is the worst party mutiny since Wilders formed the Freedom Party in 2006.

On Wednesday night, after municipal elections in The Hague, Wilders asked voters, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city?” The crowd chanted “Fewer! Fewer!” to which the party leader replied, “I’ll take care of that.”

Prosecutors say they have received more than one hundred requests to investigate Wilders for hate speech.

Wilders’ party only competed in Almere and The Hague in Wednesday’s city council elections. It lost votes in both but remained the largest party in the former.

Moroccans comprise 2.2 percent of the Netherlands’ population and under 6 percent of The Hague’s. Government research has shown that Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent tend to be better integrated than those of Chinese or Turkish origin but they are also disproportionately represented among juvenile delinquents and welfare recipients. Nearly a quarter of Moroccan Dutch are on welfare compared to 10 percent for native Dutch.

Wilders campaigns against what he describes as the creeping “Islamization” of the Netherlands and “mass immigration” from Muslim countries — although emigration to those countries has outpaced immigration in recent years. In 2012, more Dutch citizens of Islamic descent left the Netherlands than applied for citizenship.

Wilders was prosecuted for hate crimes in 2007 for calling Islam a fascist ideology but was acquitted in 2011 when his party supported Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s minority government.

Rutte, who leads the ruling liberal party, distanced himself from Wilders’ remarks on Friday, saying they left a “foul taste” in his mouth. He also ruled out future cooperation with Wilders, being the last major party leader to do so.

Rutte’s Labor Party partners suggested blocking all parliamentary proposals from the Freedom Party but others seem unlikely to support such a cordon sanitaire.

Polls have shown Wilders’ party on track to win most seats in May’s European Parliament election. He has built an alliance with France’s Front national and other Euroskeptic parties to form a bloc against deeper European integration.

Dutch EU Exit Report Overlooks Domestic Obstacles

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013
The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013 (Bert Kaufmann)

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands’ nationalist Freedom Party which is leading in the polls for May’s European Parliament elections, unveiled a study on Thursday that he claimed supports his argument that the country would be better off outside the European Union.

However, the potential savings identified in the report (PDF), by the British consultancy Capital Economics, are conditioned less on the Netherlands leaving the European Union and more on making the sort of domestic policy changes Wilders advocates.

It argues that the Dutch government could save €7.5 billion per year by 2035 through revised migration policies. No longer bound by European rules, the country could refuse to admit immigrants who are unlikely to make an “economic contribution.” Certainly Wilders’ Freedom Party would do so if it had absolute power but this proposal lacks support from other parties. A Netherlands outside the European Union is unlikely to pursue a radically different immigration policy than it does today today.

The report further suggests the yearly cost of doing business in the Netherlands could be reduced by at least €20 billion by “renationalizing” regulations, meaning the country should institute “a more targeted and less onerous regulatory framework.” Yet, after Ireland, it already has the least onerous regulatory framework in Europe, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. There simply isn’t the political majority, nor likely to be one in the near future, for more deregulation.

The greatest wave of deregulation likely to affect the Netherlands in the near future is a free-trade deal between the European Union and the United States — which the country would miss out on if it left the bloc. It could conceivably sign better trade deals with non-European partners on its own but that is assuming such partners, like the United States, would be interested in enacting separate treaties after wrapping up years of negotiations with the European Union.

It also assumes that emerging markets, like Brazil and India, would be interested in liberalizing their international trade at all — which they have so far shown limited interest it. If they won’t negotiate trade deals with the European Union as a whole, why would they be keen to enact treaties with just the Netherlands?

Moreover, if the Netherlands is to remain a member of European Economic Area like Iceland and Norway — and given its reliance on exports to neighboring European countries, it will want to — the country would have no choice but to recreate many European regulations at the national level, canceling out a good chunk of the potential savings.

The Capital Economics study downplays the risk of a loss of exports, even if a third of Dutch national income is derived from foreign trade and 15 percent of Dutchmen work for foreign companies, arguing that other European countries would have no interest in severing trade relations with the Netherlands even if it left the European Union. Which is true but that overlooks the likelihood of the Netherlands’ exports becoming more expensive when the country exists the euro.

Capital Economics claims there is “little evidence to suggest that, beyond initial and temporary market volatility, the new guilder will either appreciate or depreciate substantially.” But that “initial and temporary” volatility should see a steep increase in the reintroduced guilder’s value against the euro, making Dutch exports more costly for countries still in the single currency and thus far less competitive.

The report rules out this possibility by opining that for the Netherlands, the euro is not actually undervalued. The simple fact that the country has been running trade deficits for decades, sometimes even the largest in Europe relative to its economic output, disproves that thesis.

What is unequivocally true is that if it left the European Union, the Netherlands would no longer have to contribute to its budget nor the bailing out of remaining member states. Capital Economics puts the country’s cumulative savings it would achieve as a result at €240 billion by 2035.

It are these transfers, to countries like Greece and Portugal, that upset the average Dutch voter who has seen his own disposable income decrease.

Despite a recovery in exports, the Dutch economy last year was still 3.5 percent smaller than before the crisis. Household consumption has dropped in every quarter since early 2011. An underlying cause is the Netherlands’ high household debt, equivalent to 110 percent of economic output. Housing prices have fallen 20 percent since 2008, as a result of which 16 percent of homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

Yet it are public-sector wage freezes and higher taxes that have hurt the most. Wilders successfully campaigns against both and links the austerity measures at home to bailouts abroad. With Euroskepticism rising, he could very well win a plurality of Dutch seats in the European Parliament. But he is still unlikely to win a national election. Most Dutch voters are frustrated with the European Union but they continue to believe that it does their country more good than harm to be a member.

Dutch, French Nationalists to Jointly Contest Election

French nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen welcomes her Dutch counterpart Geert Wilders’ proposal to join forces in next year’s European parliamentary elections.

“All patriotic parties that fight for their identity, fight for sovereignty, should unite in the European elections,” she told Dutch state broadcaster NOS on Tuesday. Read more “Dutch, French Nationalists to Jointly Contest Election”

Dutch Anti-Islam Politician Taps Into Resurgent Nationalism

Geert Wilders
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens to a court proceeding in Amsterdam, June 23, 2011 (Reuters/Robin Utrecht)

Dutch politician Geert Wilders called on Sunday for a “new patriotism” to simultaneously “liberate the nations of Europe” from the European Union and fend off what he considers the Islamization of Western culture.

While the Freedom Party leader still peppered a speech in Los Angeles with familiar anti-Islam rhetoric, comparing the religion to a totalitarian ideology, he notably framed his resistance to immigration from non-Western countries as well as the Netherlands’ European Union membership as part of a nationalism that he believes is resurgent across the continent.

Wilders specifically mentioned France’s Front national, Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement in Italy, the United Kingdom Independence Party and Euroskeptic former Czech president Václav Klaus as allies in his effort to halt political integration in Europe and abandon the euro.

While there are considerable differences between these groups — Front national, for instance, is protectionist whereas UKIP favors free trade; Grillo is a leftist who, like Klaus, has little to say about immigration whereas the others oppose it — they do all tap into a resurgent nationalism which Wilders argued had been suppressed by elites who mistakingly believed it caused the Second World War. He urged Europeans to redeem the nation state.

The spirit of a people cannot flourish outside the body of the nation state. The nation state is the political body in which we live. We must preserve and cherish it. So that we can pass on to our children our national identity, our democracy, our liberty.

The European Union and Islam equally threaten the European nation state, he added. The former because it “is built on a negation of democracy”; the latter because it doesn’t conform to Europe’s Judeo-Christian and humanist traditions.

Wilders’ Freedom Party, which outpolled both the ruling Labor and liberal parties in a recent survey, has emphasized its Euroskepticism since the Dutch had to participate in bailing out profligate member states of the currency union in the Mediterranean while their own economy contracted, necessitating budget cuts and tax increases. Wilders first tried to connect the two by arguing that European policies prevented the Netherlands from curtailing immigration from Muslim countries, something he said he came to realize while his party backed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s first government with the Christian Democrats which failed to persuade other European countries to change the bloc’s migration rules.

The latest approach looks more promising. It puts Wilders’ party, which has otherwise defied conventional labels — it is usually described as far right even as it cherishes welfare state programs and has embraced Keynesian economics — in the national conservative end of the political spectrum where there is virtually no competition. Rutte’s pro-business party also campaigns on law and order issues but is economically as well as socially liberal. The Christian Democrats have a strong leftist minority in their party that fiercely criticized their alliance with Wilders in the last government. Neither is particularly Euroskeptic.

If Wilders manages this transformation, he might expand his Freedom Party’s appeal to include a right-wing constituency that has so far regarded him as a firebrand whose populist policy proposals seemed ideologically incoherent. That would also help make it a permanent force in Dutch politics, now doubtful given Wilders’ resistance to party democratization and his struggles in finding respectable candidates.