Europe’s failing elites

I recently looked up the quote warning about the looming “night of fascism” and found to my delight that – according to Walter Russell Mead – it was “the portentous German novelist Günter Grass [who] once warned that the ‘dark night of fascism was falling on America’” and that the American novelist Tom Wolfe riposted “Why is it that ‘the dark night of fascism’ is always falling on America — and always landing on Europe?” [My own view on Grass is here.]

Keeping this in mind – and keeping in mind that Europe is constantly worried about Israel’s political direction – let’s contemplate this scenario:

Imagine a world in which President Obama, Mitt Romney and Pat Buchanan were all running in the presidential election and Buchanan was polling just one or two percentage points behind the other contenders. Is this likely to happen in America? No. But it is happening right now in France.

This is (again) Walter Russell Mead, in a post entitled “Le Pen Is Mightier Than Before.” Mead points out that given the French electoral system, there is no reason (yet) to worry, because Marine Le Pen would almost certainly be kept from the presidency in a second run-off election – just as her father was back in 2002.

However, as noted in the New York Times report to which Mead links, a recent poll has shown “that 31 percent of the French were ‘in agreement with the ideas of the National Front,’ up from 22 percent a year ago and 11 percent in 1999,” and analysts think that “it won’t be a big surprise” if Marine Le Pen managed to get into the second round.

In this context it is interesting to read Francis Fukuyama’s two recent posts on “European Identities.” The first post examines how different European countries have dealt with Muslim immigrant assimilation (and Fukuyama actually argues that France has done relatively well on this count); the second post focuses on the lack of a European identity. I think in both posts, Fukuyama identifies a number of problems and challenges that Israel is also facing when it comes to its minorities. But while Israel may not have any reason to gloat about Europe’s problems, European elites definitely have no reason to feel entitled to preach to Israel – at least if you agree with Fukuyama’s verdict:

Now, let me just conclude by saying that these issues that I have discussed- immigration, national level identity and European level identity-in the next years are going to merge as really the same issue because these are the central issues of all the new populist parties that have arisen all over the continent of Europe. That is to say, opposition to immigration and Euro-scepticism. We have older parties like the Front National in France and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium. But in the last decade we have seen the emergence of new ones, the Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, Danish People’s Party, the Sweden Democrats, True Finn Party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) […] in Switzerland. Opposition to Europe and immigration has a common source amongst all these parties. It is basically a populist impulse. It is a feeling that the needs of ordinary citizens have been ignored by the elite with regards to both the deepening of the European Union and to immigration issues. […]

And to be quite honest, the whole European project has been an elite-driven affair. We know that on several occasions when the issue of agreeing to a treaty was put up for popular referendum and when the people gave the wrong answer, the elite would say the people were wrong about that, they are going to have to vote again. So, I think that in a sense the rise of populism reflects in a certain way the deepening of democracy in Europe: the public is not going to be lead along by their elites like they were in the first decades after the Second World War. But it [also] means that there are tremendous dangers for European democracy that lie ahead in the immediate future. I think we all recognize in the European Union that an important process either deepens it or it begins to split apart. The current middle ground is not one that is sustainable.

[…] The deepening project, that is to say to moving from monetary to fiscal union, may make sense in terms of economics, but it is going to have a tremendous number of political costs that need to be taken into account. There is absolutely no grassroots support in Europe for this deepening project; this is again going to be an elite-driven affair […] undertaken for largely technical economic reasons. It is actually something that is already stimulating the renationalization of Europe. […] And it also forces conditions that amount to the suspension of democracy in Europe, now you have technocrats running the governments of Italy and Greece that were not elected in normal fashion by their constituents. The reason why they are there is because of the conditions set not by the Italian and Greek public but set by other parts of Europe. This kind of deepening both on the part by Northern and Southern countries is going to lead to doubts about political accountability in both of the halves. All of this is being undertaken against the background of a prolonged and deepening economic crisis. In many respects this identity problem is one that we all need to think about very deeply; it is one that will come back, I guarantee you, in our politics in the near future.

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