Salvo 06.18.2024 10 minutes

Europe Swings Right

G7 Leaders Summit – Day One

The recent elections reflect broad dissatisfaction with the loss of national and cultural sovereignty.

Observers of the recent elections for the European Parliament, held on June 9, 2024, have rightly concluded that the election results hold a significance far beyond the event itself. If one looks beyond the mainstream media’s predictable preoccupation with the rise of the “extreme Right,” one can discern the beginnings of a continent-wide demand for democratic accountability. A growing number of ordinary people are yearning for something beyond a borderless Europe of moral preening and puffed-up humanitarian “values.” They desire a Europe where leaders recognize the concerns of the people and who do not automatically defer to an unchallenged set of progressive presuppositions. They have grown tired, in whole or in part, of indefinite openness to the “Other”; ever-expanding rights at the expense of tradition and social cohesion; radical secularism, LGBTQ++ ideology, naïveté about Islam and political and economic globalism informed by Green ideology and climate change apocalypticism. The ruling European consensus has shown itself to be remarkably ineffectual while being increasingly domineering.

To confuse democratic populism with incipient fascism (or even Nazism) is absurd. To acquiesce in the confusion is to resign oneself to a permanent administrative despotism of the kind represented by the Brussels commission. Some elementary questions can help clear the air. Are angry European farmers who oppose the fanaticism inherent in draconian environmental measures, and the inevitable loss of their livelihoods, extremists? Should they resign them themselves to penury? Does the whole world have the right to citizenship in European countries even at the cost of social stability, economic vitality, and a meaningful sense of shared political and cultural mores? Is love of country, and a preference for the national form as the framework for democratic self-government, really the same as “homicidal aversion” to other peoples and nations, as Pierre Manent has aptly put it? To ask these questions is to reveal the fatuity of the assumptions underlying them.

At the European Conservative, Rod Dreher persuasively argues that a person of good sense should “never, ever trust mainstream journalists to report accurately on the non-traditional right.” These are the lazy and partisan commentators who think Hungary under Victor Orbán and the Fidesz party is a fascist dictatorship for vigorously opposing open borders, Islamist ideology, gender ideology, and the apparent drift toward open armed conflict with Russia. Moreover, Hungary, the European country with a thriving and truly safe Jewish population, and deep sympathy for Israel and the Israeli people, is habitually denounced as anti-Semitic. Much the same was said of Poland when it was ruled by the conservative, Catholic, and national-minded Law and Justice party. Now that a left-liberal “rainbow coalition” is in power in that country, Poland is again lauded by European elites as a liberal and truly “European” nation, despite the open harassment of an opposition deemed “undemocratic.” Most news reports misleadingly proclaimed a major victory for Donald Tusk’s “liberal” KO (Civic Coalition) party in the election for the European Parliament. In truth, conservative parties collectively won 29 of Poland’s 50 seats, hardly a resounding victory for those who support “democracy Brussels-style” or a wholly secular and “progressive” future for Poland.

The parties which belong to the European People’s Party, a grouping of Christian Democratic and moderately conservative parties, including Germany’s Christian Democratic Union and Spain’s Popular Party, will form the leading bloc in the new European Parliament. Overall, they gained 14 seats. They tend to be cautious in their general approach and are excessively wary of being identified with the “far Right.” They are thus unduly deferential to Brussels and the European establishment. They are not hostile to patriotic attachments per se, but generally subordinate them to European values and aspirations.

The EPP grouping is likely to support the German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen for another term as president of the European Commission, seeing in her a bulwark against Right and Left extremism, rather than what she truly represents: unimaginative support for a stultifying status quo. The EPP might eventually form a more serious and cohesive conservative bloc if they become less inclined to defer so automatically to elite opinion. There are true conservatives in their midst and an eventual move to the Right on issues like Green-inspired environmental policies is not hard to imagine. But for now, the EPP’s support of untenable migration policies, and fear of identification with the “far Right,” makes them adherents of the status quo more than proponents of a forward-looking, democratically accountable conservatism.

The Socialists remain the second biggest block in the European Parliament, a bit weakened but far from down and out. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling Social Democrats suffered a humiliating blow (just 14 percent of the vote), losing badly to the Christian Democratic Union (which came in at 30.2 percent of the vote) and even to Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing, anti-immigrant party that won 16 percent of the vote. Elite opinion in Germany, supported by the security services, is itching to ban the AfD as an “extremist” and “totalitarian” party that can be outlawed under the German constitution (the Basic Law of 1949). The party no doubt draws support from some unsavory elements and from disaffected youth, especially from the former East Germany.

But the Alternative for Germany draws support from voters who are hardly nostalgic for Hitler and National Socialism. Twenty percent of the population in Germany is now non-German, and an entrenched Turkish minority and a growing Islamic and Islamist population poses problems for national cohesion, personal safety, and cultural continuity. All three parties in the governing coalition in Germany (including the Greens and the economically liberal Free Democrats) were routed in the election on June 9, with the Greens losing half their seats. During the denouement of the Cold War, the Greens were pacifists and appeasers who supported unilateral disarmament; today they support deindustrialization, a hyper-aggressive policy toward Russia, extremist ecological measures, and no meaningful limits to the number of asylum seekers entering the country. Their rout suggests that Germans (and Europeans more broadly) are waking up to the disastrous consequences of the Green civil religion that has largely replaced the Christian faith of old Europe. A growing number of Europeans do not want the continent to voluntarily commit economic and cultural suicide or drift into war with Russia. These are reasonable concerns rather than fanatical fears.

The two unabashedly conservative blocs in the new European Parliament, the Conservatives and Reformists and the more right-wing Identity and Democracy grouping, picked up an additional seven and nine percentage points of the vote, respectively, compared to their showing in the previous election to the European Parliament. Other conservative non-aligned parties, including Hungary’s Fidesz, will be well represented in the new parliament, although Fidesz lost some representation to a new anti-corruption party. Moreover, the Hungarian left-wing parties won only eight percent of the vote in a perfectly fair election. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party finished first with 28 percent of the vote, picking up 18 seats and outpacing the left-of-center Democratic Party by nearly five percent of the vote. All in all, the non-traditional Right, as it is most accurate to call them, did extraordinarily well, posing a significant challenge to a tired and tepid conservative establishment which is too fearful of national self-affirmation and to excessively technocratic (and soulless) “centrist” parties such as Emmanuel Macron’s L’Europe Ensemble (also known as Renaissance).

The election results in France were the most dramatic and have led to a veritable political earthquake in that country. The National Rally, anti-immigration and anti-Islamist, but hardly “extreme Right” in its present incarnation, won 31.37 percent of the vote compared to the 14.6 percent of the vote won by Macron’s ruling party. The National Rally’s 28-year-old leader, Jordan Bardella, handsome, likeable, and charismatic, is no doubt more popular than the polarizing Marine Le Pen (who, to her credit, has succeeded in “de-demonizing” the party). Reconquête, the party of Eric Zémmour and Marion Maréchal, more culturally conservative than the National Rally, won 5.46 percent of the vote and five seats. The Republicans, establishment conservatives who are torn between more Gaullist and Europeanist wings, carried just 7.2 percent of the vote and have since split in two on whether to form a pragmatic electoral alliance with the National Rally. The rest of the vote was divided between an assortment of left-of-center parties from the moderate Left to the Communists and La France Insoumise, a hard Left party headed by the firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a movement that combines unabashed anti-Zionism (if not open anti-Semitism) with revolutionary fervor, anti-capitalist ire, and social radicalism.

President Macron almost immediately dissolved the National Assembly after the election results came in, much to the chagrin of his own party, supporters, and ministers. He consulted almost no one in so doing. His party is likely to be trounced in the upcoming two-round parliamentary election on June 30 and July 7. Macron loves the majesty of the French presidency created by the constitution of the Fifth French Republic in 1958 though, unlike Charles de Gaulle, he can hardly speak “of France to France.” As Anne-Elisabeth Moutet recently wrote at Unherd, his vision is almost exclusively technocratic, bereft of a spiritual vision that can draw on an older and deeper France or speak to the pressing concerns of voters. Besides his ritualistic support for global markets and “European values,” he is an opportunist who has recently worked to constitutionalize the right to abortion (in reaction to a Dobbs decision he hardly understood), liberalize euthanasia (a demagogic move in the direction of the “right to die” that will inevitably lead France to coercing death à la Belgium and Canada), and to promote the fanciful and dangerous idea of sending French and European troops to Ukraine to fight the Russians.

Macron’s electoral gamble has created an unprecedented political crisis. The Republicans and Reconquest are torn apart, with centrist Republicans vowing never to cooperate with the National Rally, and Zémmour implacably hostile, more on personal than political grounds, to any electoral or political pact with Marine Le Pen’s party. In contrast, all the leftist parties have rallied to a “New Popular Front,” much more radical than many of its constituent parts and tending to confuse 2024 with 1933. Alain Finkielkraut, a French Jew and deeply thoughtful man of letters who has courageously stood up to ideologues of the Left and Right, recently told the French weekly Le Point (as reported by Unclassified) that he may end up voting for the National Rally, because a Left directed increasingly by the ideologues of La France Insoumise combines reckless leftism with implacable “hatred of Israel and Zionists.” About that he is no doubt correct. Finkielkraut also rightly argues that perpetually excluding the National Rally from France’s “republican arc” is “absurd.” “We cannot eternally play the brown plague card nor stigmatize the existential anxiety of a majority of French people faced with migratory pressure.” It is not fascistic “to defend the right to historical continuity and restore border control.” Still, Finkielkraut adds, “the present situation is heart-wrenching for French Jews” such as himself.

One has to acknowledge that the National Rally is an imperfect vehicle for French national self-affirmation. Economically the party remains too statist, and socially it concedes too much to the new morality pushed by progressive elites. Unlike Reconquest and elements of the Republicans, it has little feel for the “Christian mark” (the phrase is Pierre Manent’s) of the France and Europe it purports to defend. Still, its populism rightly resists what Manent has also called “the fanaticism of a center” that no longer knows how to defend the old nations of Europe against the administrative despotism and postnational ideology of the European project in its present form. The leadership of a weak and humiliated Europe, open to everything but its own traditions and the sovereign will of its peoples, complains constantly about the dangers of a “desperate nationalism.” But as Manent argues, Europe’s present discontents owe less “to the demagogy of the populisms” and more to “the fanatical globalization of the parties of the center” who openly fear and aggressively resist the democratic will of European peoples and nations. Whatever the European project is in its present form, it is hardly “democratic” or “liberal” in any recognizable sense of those terms. That is a truth one will never learn from mainstream politicians, academics, activists, or intellectuals.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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