Just three days ago, I wrote about President Barroso’s confident reassertion of the EU’s convergence principle: ‘ever closer union’. For Barroso, an EU project based on expansion and harmonization is self-evidently worthwhile, but there is no room for complacency:
[P]ro-European forces need to take the lead, and not leave the initiative in the hands of the doomsayers and false prophets on all sides of the political spectrum. We have to engage even more directly with concerns and emotions and make the best of our values win against the simplest of prejudices.
Well, the doomsayers haven’t taken long to respond. There was a fascinating (and slightly unnerving) story in yesterday’s Guardian about a very unlikely new European team-up: Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale, and Geert Wilders’ (Dutch) Freedom Party.
I’ve blogged about the Front Nationale before. In brief, they want out of the EU, and they are currently leading French opinion polls. Wilders, who is essentially a libertarian, had this to say:
This is a historical day. Today is the beginning of the liberation from the European elite, the monster in Brussels… We want to decide how we control our borders, our money, our economy, our currency.
President Barroso speaks of anti-Europeans having the ‘simplest of prejudices’, and both Le Pen and Wilders have been accused of being prejudiced many times. But not of the same prejudices, which is what makes the link-up so interesting. Wilders’ main concern is to defend the tradition of Dutch social liberalism (which he believes is threatened by Islam), whereas Le Pen’s party is notorious for its homophobia. They aren’t natural buddies: this is very much a marriage of convenience.
Or perhaps of inconvenience. Their strategy is to form a new bloc within the European Parliament that attempts to undermine the institution itself. Differences between allies in the bloc are irrelevant, because the aim of the group is to reclaim national sovereignty, and hence do away with the need for a bloc at all! It’s difficult to envisage how it would work in practice (charismatic extremist politicians being quite often temperamental people!), but perhaps the actions of the Tea Party in the US Congress give a flavor of what it could ensue in Brussels: chaos and inertia: and the shutdown of European government.
This isn’t just an abstract possibility. The Freedom Party is also leading in Dutch national polls. Europe, the EU, has a serious problem on the horizon. Le Pen and Wilders are trying to recruit other sceptic parties to the movement: all around Europe, anti-EU parties are in the ascendant. But one that won’t be joining them is UKIP. They don’t, according to the Guardian, want to be associated with European anti-semitism.
For the powers-that-be in Brussels, Wilders-Le Pen won’t seem so much like a Skywalker style Rebel Alliance as a ganging up of super baddies – as though Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter had come to a friendly understanding between themselves. They won’t stay friends for long, but while they do, watch out.
How will EU policy makers respond? Steps toward ‘ever closer union’ risk provoking precisely the reactionary nationalistic feelings they are supposed to be making a thing of the past.
‘We want to decide how we control our borders, our money, our economy, our currency,’ says Geert Wilders. How is that aspiration to be squared with, for example, the European Commission’s new proposal for a standardized VAT Return across the EU, to be introduced in 2017?
Many of our colleagues in the tax world are treating the proposal as a done deal. Looking at this new political axis, I’m not so sure.