Rise of far right poses great threat to EU institutions

The rise in the number of far-right MEPs who say the people should decide everything, not the EU, poses a serious threat to the work of the institution, writes Europe Correspondent Ann Cahill

THE UN charter of human rights should be abandoned, and rights — as defined by the people of any country — should only apply to the people of that country, according to Marine Le Pen, the leader of the most powerful political group in France.

Being racist, against other religions, or against all foreigners is no longer taboo in Europe, with a 40% increase in the number of far-right politicians elected to the European Parliament.

They now hold around 10% of the seats and their attitudes reflect a growing reality for at least 12% of EU citizens who belong to ethnic and religious minorities.

According to the European Network Against Racism, and the facts on the ground, discrimination against all kinds of people is growing. ENAR says that the level of inequality is the same as it was more than a century ago in 1910, before Europe went through two world wars.

Counterpoint, a British research company supported by a range of NGOs, looks into human behaviour and motivation for clients, including politicians. It drew up a ‘traffic-light’ table (right) of the radical parties who were or will be in the European Parliament — and many of them already have seats in their national governments.

They point out that the parties differ widely — some are anti-democratic, racist, and xenophobic. All have difficulties making constructive democratic contributions to the political system.

“They have been effective at being parties of ‘no’, but that’s not what a democratic system is about; to be a legitimate part of a democratic system you need to be willing to compromise, articulate solutions and aggregate preferences: Do these parties have an interest in using the power that marginalised voters give them to do more than vocalise grievances? It is also for these reasons that we are — and should be — wary of their presence in our political landscapes.”

The more extreme parties are not legitimate political forces — they are only intent on disruption and division, and in some cases, violence, Counterpoint says. Some may be willing to change, but for some like the Front National in France, it would take a clean break with their roots and background.

Ms Le Pen has succeeded so far in gathering similar groups from four other countries around her. She needs groups from just two more countries to form a group that will be eligible to receive funding, administrative assistance, more speaking time, be chair of committees, and direct the business of the parliament.

This, she made clear at her press conference in Brussels this week, is her aim, and from there, she says, she will destroy the system from within.

Analysis of the different groups which included extreme parties over the last parliament term, showed that in only about half of cases did they agree on what way to vote. In up to half the rest of the times, they cancelled one another out, voting differently.

However, says Counterpoint, while they may not be effective in directly influencing policy, they will be in a position to de-legitimise further an institution that is already under attack, by monopolising speaking time, slowing progress, including on reform agenda.

“But it is clear that this is also a dangerous moment because populist parties’ successes at the EU level will put pressure on national-level politicians and policy-makers,” says Counterpoint.

Ms Le Pen, who took 24% of the French vote and a third of the French seats, has been joined by Lega Nord from Italy, Austria’s FPO; Belgium’s Vlams Belang; and the Dutch PVV of Geert Wilders.

All told their press conference this week in Brussels that the nation, the people, should decide everything, not the EU. Lega Nord’s Matteo Salvini goes further, saying he wants to see Italy broken up into city states and regions.

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