Fritz Groothues

The European Parliament’s lot is not a happy one: it’s expected to do the heavy democratic lifting for an institution that desperately needs to tackle its democratic deficit. But this Parliament is like no other. Seen by many European voters as either irrelevant or as just one governance level too many, the turnout for European elections has declined drastically from 62% in 1979 to 43% in 2014. In the UK only one in 10 voters were able to name a member of the European Parliament in their region, even fewer had ever contacted an MEP.

European elections are in fact not very European at all. Candidates are identified with national parties and national causes, and that is unlikely to change as long as there are no European parties campaigning across borders.

But there is a strange paradox: despite the European Parliament’s shadowy existence, some MEPs in France and the UK are extremely well known – Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage for instance, two politicians whose declared aim is the abolition of the very body to which they have been elected and then the destruction of the EU as a whole. Here the European Parliament is indeed like no other: imagine politicians in France or the UK campaigning for the annihilation of the French or the British state. An outcry would follow, and these attempts would be regarded as unconstitutional. It is unthinkable that these parties would have seats in a national parliament, but no constitution prevents this happening on the European level.

Extreme right-wing parties are using the European Parliament as a platform in their fight against the European Union, receiving funding and publicity which would otherwise not be available to them and without which some of them would find it hard to survive. France’s National Rallye, the UK’s Independence Party, Germany’s AFD, Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s Northern League, Austria’s Freedom Party are all hugely strengthened domestically by their presence in the European Parliament. And because of the lack of interest in European affairs national electorates can be thoroughly misrepresented in the EU Parliament. UKIP does not have a single MP in the House of Commons but provides 26% of British MEPs. 1% of députés in the French Assemblée National belong to the Rassemblement National (formerly National Front), but they make up 22% of the French contingent in the European Parliament.

The growing disdain in which governments, the media and voters hold the European Parliament has opened up a wide crack used by far-right groupings to enter the EU public arena. They have turned voter discontent with national politics into a weapon against the European Union.

And this is only the beginning. A large Trojan horse is waiting to be dragged right into the centre of EU politics to finish the job, the destruction of the European project. As in Troy, there are warnings in Brussels about the insidious nature of this horse and, as in Troy, a cunning tale is being spun to deceive the public. Sinon was the Greek soldier who managed to talk the Trojans into accepting the war machine in disguise, with his lies about personal suffering and persecution. Today’s equivalent is Steve Bannon, Trump’s kingmaker and proponent of illiberal nationalism.

As widely reported, Bannon plans a massive onslaught on the EU before the European elections in May 2019. His project ‘The Movement’ is designed to boost and coordinate existing far-right parties, and Bannon’s experience in the Trump campaign comes in useful: xenophobia and the defence of a strangely hollowed-out Judeo-Christian culture make up the story of this new Sinon. It is a dehumanising concept of Christianity that excludes anybody who happens to be from a different background and defines its pro-Jewishness in terms of support for Israeli government policy. Islam is the existential threat in this story, which has nothing to say about the role of Islamic civilisation in Europe or the many Muslims who are part of European society today.

Sinon-Bannon’s politics are those of the gut instinct, nourished by the darkest forces in European history. He hopes that Europeans have forgotten the murderous nationalism of the 20th century and will instead be guided by his mendacious tale.

Both Victor Orban and Nigel Farage think that Bannon’s project could help right-wing anti-EU parties become the biggest bloc in the European Parliament next year. It is crucial that the other parties understand the danger and work out a joint response, otherwise Bannon’s plot could succeed.

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