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Europe rose up in protest against the EU — here’s your guide to the new rebels

25 May 2014

Daniel Hannan wrote in the Spectator earlier this year about the pirate parties of Europe

I once shared a car to the airport with a French MEP, a member of the Front National (FN). He spoke that very correct French which, across the Channel, serves in place of accent as a social signifier. He casually mentioned that the Holocaust couldn’t have happened, at least not on the scale claimed: the volume of the ovens, he creepily explained, was insufficient.

The European Parliament has always had its fair share of extremists, eccentrics and outright, drooling loons. With the FN then polling at 6 per cent, there seemed no need to treat any of its MEPs seriously, so I took to avoiding that one. Now his party is set to win tonight’s European election. But it’s not just madmen on the rise. In country after country, genuine protest movements of left, right and centre are surging.

And the most hysterical language is coming, not from the insurgent parties, but from the Eurocrats. The EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, fears that the whole European structure will be blown away by the ‘winds of populism’. (Populism is a favourite Eurocrat word, meaning ‘when politicians do what their constituents want’ — or, as we call it in English, ‘democracy’.) The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, seeks to make our flesh creep with his vision of ‘political extremes and populism tearing apart the social fabric’. Jean-Claude Juncker, the ultimate Brussels insider, who recently stepped down after 18 years as prime minister of Luxembourg, is so alarmed that he foresees another Great War: ‘I am chilled by the realisation of how similar the crisis of 2013 is to that of 100 years ago.’

What is prompting this panic? Has an archduke been shot? Are mobilisation orders secretly being sent out from the palaces and chanceries of Europe? Hardly. What all these lurid warnings are about is the fact that public support for the EU is collapsing. According to the Commission’s own polling agency, 60 per cent of European citizens ‘tend not to trust the EU’ — up from 32 per cent five years ago.

Naturally enough, some of these citizens will have voted accordingly in the European Parliament elections. What we might call anti-systemic or ‘pirate’ parties are polling at record levels. Some of these parties are indeed distasteful, but others are almost boringly respectable: Alternative for Germany (AfD), for example, is essentially a Eurosceptic offshoot from the liberal FDP, and its upper ranks are disproportionately filled by economists and academics. It alone espouses what, in most countries, would be regarded as a mainstream view, namely that there is no point in asking taxpayers to keep funding euro bailouts that are doing more harm than good.

Being anti-establishment doesn’t necessarily make you sinister. The Pirate Party began life as a single-issue campaign in Sweden against the rules on intellectual property. The geeky corsairs won two MEPs at the last elections, and have established branches across Europe and America. They have slightly broadened their agenda to cover privacy and transparency issues, but are still mainly a party for intense young men in T-shirts. Such is the weakness of the traditional parties, though, that the Pirates have managed to get national representation in Iceland and the Czech Republic as well as winning some regional elections in Germany.

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For similar reasons, the Five Star Movement, an unlikely coalition of ecologists, Eurosceptics and, for want of a better term, Carswellians (supporters of open primaries, referendums, internet polls and the like) remains the third force in Italian politics, polling in the high teens. British newspapers like to refer to their founder, Beppe Grillo, as a stand-up comic, but he was better known in Italy as an anti-establishment blogger, a kind of Guido Fawkes. His party resembles what we would get if Guido’s readers combined to form a political movement: some are high-minded libertarians, others are angry anti-politics types, a few are unhinged conspiracy theorists.

What links all these ‘pirate parties’? What links Marine le Pen, Geert Wilders, Beppe Grillo, Nigel Farage, Alexis Tspiras, the firebrand leader of the far-left Syriza movement in Greece, and Berndt Lucke, the clever and mild-mannered professor of macro-economics who leads AfD? Beyond the fact that they expect to do well in the Euro elections, only one thing: they all dislike the euro. As far as Eurocrats are concerned, this makes them more or less interchangeable. Barroso frames this year’s election as a choice between ‘pro-European forces’ and ‘extremist forces’.

It’s amazing how common this narcissism is: I disagree with person A, and I also disagree with person B, therefore A and B are identical. The idea is reinforced by countless bien-pensant journalists, who apply the blanket term ‘far right’ to anyone they disapprove of. Here, to pluck an example more or less at random, is an article from last month’s Washington Post: ‘With the FN at 24 per cent, the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) at 15 per cent, and the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) at 10 per cent, the total of far-right seats [in the European Parliament] would go up to 50.’

What do these three parties have in common? The FN has positioned itself to the left even of François Hollande on economics, favouring protectionism, nationalisation, high taxes and increased welfare spending. Wilders’s PVV, which is overwhelmingly focused on Islamisation, seeks common cause with LGBT organisations, feminists and left-wing secularists. Ukip, unlike most continental Eurosceptics, is unequivocally libertarian, pro-capitalist and pro-City, and has ruled out collaborating with either the FN or the PVV.

In the solipsistic world-view of the Euro-integrationist, none of this much matters: any Eurosceptic is, ipso facto, extreme. Perhaps the silliest example of the phenomenon is the way the label ‘far right’ is now extended to the party likely to make the largest advances in Finland, Timo Soini’s Finns Party, which emerged from the Rural Party, and has always been squarely in the middle of the political spectrum. Because the farmers who constituted its base were hostile to joining the EU in the 1990s, it was freer than the other parties to oppose the euro. When the rest of the Finnish establishment lined up behind the bailouts, Soini naturally emphasised the bit of his programme that most chimed with public opinion: hostility to the single currency. Immediately, his party surged in the polls. And, immediately, commentators cretinously started calling it ‘far right’.

The trouble with labelling everyone you dislike a fascist is that, when you’re confronted with the real article, you have no adequate vocabulary. Greece’s Golden Dawn is an authentic Nazi party if ever there was one: anti-democratic, anti-Semitic and nostalgic for the Metaxas dictatorship, when political parties and trade unions were banned. Like all properly fascist parties, Golden Dawn loathes the free market and yearns for an authoritarian, corporatist state. Having bumbled along with less than 2 per cent support since the 1980s, it was turned by the euro crisis into Greece’s third party.

To lump together fascist parties (Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, Jobbik in Hungary, the BNP) with bellicose but essentially constitutional anti-immigration movements (FN in France, PVV in the Netherlands, Freedom Party in Austria) is clumsy. To add in eurosceptic parties of the democratic right (AfD in Germany, Mouvement pour la France, Danish People’s Party, Ukip) is deliberately tendentious.

When someone groups all these parties together under the label ‘extreme right’, he is telling you more about himself than about them. Parties like Golden Dawn are not right-wing in any recognisable sense. They favour workers’ councils, higher spending, state-controlled industries; they march on May Day under red flags. They could just as easily sit at either end of the European Parliament’s hemicycle (our closest equivalent, in its combination of mystical nationalism and loathing for capitalism, is Sinn Féin). Calling such parties right-wing isn’t intended to make anyone think less of them; it’s intended to damage mainstream conservatives by implying that the difference between them and the Nazis is one of degree.

But the Barrosos and Junckers and Rompuys don’t stop there. Their definition of extremism also covers those leftists who have seen through the EU. The euro crisis has led to a revival of communist parties in the austerity-stricken states: Ireland’s Socialist party, Spain’s Izquierda Unida, Greece’s Syriza. Radical socialists argued all along that the euro was a scam that would benefit bankers and bureaucrats at the expense of ordinary people. And — it’s not often one gets to say this — they were spot on. Every successive cut has vindicated their interpretation of the EU as an organised racket in which a privileged caste lives off the sweat of the workers.

In a sense, it’s no surprise that all these parties, from the Pirates to Syriza, from the Five Stars to the PVV, should resent the euro. Who, coming new to the argument, would think it a success? The chief reason that the old parties defend monetary union is that it was their idea. Incredible as it now seems, a decade ago they were assuring their electorates that the single currency would boost GDP by 1 per cent a year in perpetuity.

If anyone in this debate can be fairly lumped together, it’s not the disparate insurgent parties, but the paleo-federalists of the EPP (European People’s Party), the Liberals and the Socialists. Listening, month after month, to the EPP leader, a German-speaking Alsace farmer called Joseph Daul, and his Socialist counterpart, an amiable Austrian called Hannes Swoboda, I genuinely struggle to see any great ideological divide between them. Both want a United States of Europe. Both want a social market, eco-regulations, tax harmonisation and a common European foreign policy. The only issues on which they disagree with passion are the moral ones: abortion, same-sex marriage and so on.

My guess is that we’ll will see big losses for the EPP and the Liberals. The Socialists may pick up a few seats, benefiting from anti-incumbency votes against centre-right governments at national level. But the big gains will be made by euro-critical parties. Paradoxically, the result will be to drive the EPP and the Socialists even closer together, propping each other up like two exhausted boxers at the end of ten rounds.

We can be certain that they will cling to their demands for ‘more Europe’, whatever the economic reality and whatever the wishes of their constituents. For five years, their policies have caused unemployment, deflation and emigration across southern Europe, while the IOUs pile up in northern Europe. Nothing makes them question their faith. No amount of suffering, no amount of debt moves them to admit that the single currency might have been a mistake. They are, literally, beyond argument. Which raises the question — who are the real extremists here?

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Show comments
  • BoiledCabbage

    Now, just watch the EU Commission, Rompuy & Barasso just ignore everything thats happened. The Socialists and centre Right will block change in the Parliament. Nothing will happen, deflation will continue.

  • Kasperlos

    It’s probable that the rise of anti-EU voters and nationalist parties could have been mitigated had the EU project not gone as fast or as far as it has. The speed and scale at which the Berlaymont mandarins have ursurped powers – even down to town and county level – and wealth to form a unaccountable supranational entity has brought about today’s electoral results. The peoples of the EU were never given a direct referendum vote as to what the basics – read limits – of EU should be, never mind not having elected the supreme leader ‘damp rag’ Van Rompuy. This was a mistake to the eurocrats benefit; without any brakes they ran with the ball whilst falsely proclaiming that the creature they birthed was legitimate, based on an imaginary mandate. Characteristically, the last thing institutions and organizations are is democratic.
    Most citizens don’t know the ins and outs of the politics of their local constituency, and to believe that they have a handle on the workings of the Brussels behemoth is ludicrous. A embryo of a mouse, the ECSC, morphed into an elephant and which may yet find a dinosaur ending if serious reforms to radically reduce the EU’s scope are not taken soon.

  • DN

    Thank you for an important and refreshingly sober article overall.

    Although, regarding the “silly example” of Timo Soini’s Finns Party, it should be mentioned that a few, jokingly but still less pleasant, statements have in fact been made by party MPs, about deporting homosexuals and Somalis to the Åland Islands and “monitor what sort of sociey that would result in”.

  • rick hamilton

    The “EU as an organised racket in which a privileged caste lives off the sweat of the workers” is just a throwback to the days of the nobility living off the backs of the peasants. Except that in feudal times the nobility were expected to go and fight for their country, indeed that’s how many of them got their land as a grant from a grateful monarch.

    What makes the EU such a sick joke is that there’s absolutely no possibility of Eurocrats taking the slightest personal risk when confronted with an external threat. “Putin invades Crimea: Ashton stamps foot” would probably sum it up.

    At least the privileged caste in charge in the UK can be got rid of by the peasants and replaced by another one. Tell me again, just why did our privileged caste sign up again and again to Ever Closer Union? In whose interests?

    • David Booth.

      “In whose interest?”
      Their own!

  • lozerama

    Oh, and your title “Arise, arise” made me think of something, ah yes, there it is
    For those who voted tactically for Ukip while holding their noses, mark the last sentence before they get in the car “Do you think you can control them now?”

    • BoiledCabbage

      No, no more than you can control Bleach after you have put it down the bog. But god knows it was necessary!

  • lozerama

    “Ukip, unlike most continental Eurosceptics, is unequivocally libertarian, pro-capitalist and pro-City”
    Really? How can a party that relishes in anti-immigration, supporting the NHS, and welcoming BNP voters, and whose supporters thrive on banker bashing in commentaries, claim to be libertarian? What would Milton Friedman have said about that? Ukip doesn’t have a manifesto, so no-one can be sure what they believe, which let’s them hook BNP voters and libertarians into one boat; they must be conning one or the other.

  • @PhilKean1


    Congratulations, Dan.

    We have differences about tactics. But I respect you as a real Conservative.

    Also, my deepest thanks for this honourable piece of debunking –


  • roger

    Daniel Hannan is a blast of fresh air and rigorous thought in the donkey yard that is the EU parliament. If we leave the EU for the EEA we will need him at Westminster in a top job.

    • global city

      EFTA… the EEA is a political trap and is supposed to be a gateway INTO full EU membership.

  • FrankS2

    …the Barrosos and Junckers and Rompuys…”
    Why would they worry all that much? They got where they are without benefit of the electorate, and is a slightly more EUsceptic EP really able to cause them any discomfort?

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Daniel, first of all congrats – now, will you get your man in London to sack his deputy in government? That would add some unexpected spice to our lives, wouldn’t it?

  • boxinghris

    “The EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, fears that the whole European structure will be blown away by the ‘winds of populism’. (Populism is a favourite Eurocrat word, meaning ‘when politicians do what their constituents want’ — or, as we call it in English, ‘democracy’.)”

    I actually think Rompuy’s – and the EU elite’s – attitude is even worse towards the eurosceptics, and it’s more a case of their Brave New World concept being threatened by what they sneeringly regard as ‘the masses’ who are rebelling against the ‘intellectuals’.

    As the European election results come in, the UK’s message to Brussels is defiantly “Who do you think, you are kidding Mr Rompuy?”

    What is more, we can assume that “They don’t like it up ’em!”

    • BoiledCabbage

      oh, but they do! Is the number of BDSM brothels just over the border from Strasbourg a mere coincidence?

  • global city

    In Europe sceptics call that cabal of political elites who want to drive the supranational project ever deeper ‘the System’.

    Here Gove calls the eduationalist cabal of lefties, DofE, academe and educational institutions – ‘The Blob’

    They basically work the same, so should we in the UK call the Europhile ‘the Blob’ or ‘the System’?

  • global city

    Interesting spin on things tonight….and an opportunity for DH to expose the weasel words of Nik Clegg and his ‘patriotic reforms’.

    The BBC correspondent tonight told of a conversation with Guy Verhofsdadt the other week in whih GV said that HE was a Euroseptic becasue HE wants reform.

    We all know what sort of reforms he wants…. he wrote a book about it.

    Please tell Isabel the next time you see her as she and Beverly Matlis missed it tonight and allowed Andrew Rawnsley waffle on about euroscepticism being nothing more than ignorance and fear…. the ‘passed by’!

    How could the Parliament estimate the turn out so precisely (43.11%) over an hour before the polls closed on the continent? Just asking.

    • McClane

      Matlis is an amateur.

  • Enbrok

    November 1 2014 we have a major problem ! The British parliament loses
    the right to legislate over us in 43 very important areas, the British
    parliament will have to seek approval from the EU for any laws they wish
    to pass on those 43 areas. The British Parliament also loses the right
    of veto over those areas. These areas are as follows:

    1)Administrative cooperation, 2)Asylum, 3)Border Controls,
    4)Citizens initiative regulations, 5)Civil Protection, 6)Committee of
    the regions, 7)Common Defence Policy, 8)Crime prevention incentives,
    9)Criminal judicial cooperation, 10)Criminal Law,

    12)Diplomatic judicial cooperation, 13)Economic Social Committee, 14)
    Emergency International aid, 15)Energy, 16)EU Budget, 17)Eurojust,
    18)European Central Bank, 19)European Court of Justice, 20)Europol,

    21)Eurozone external representation, 22)Foreign Affairs High
    Representation Election, 23)Freedom of Movement of Workers, 24)Freedom
    to Establish a Business, 25)Freedom, Security, Justice, cooperation
    & evaluation policy, 26)Funding the Common Foreign & Security
    Policy, 27)General economic interest services, 28)Humanitarian Aid,
    29)Immigration, 30)Intellectual property,

    31) Organisation of
    the Council of the EU, 32)Police cooperation, 33)President of the
    European Council election, 34)Response to natural disaster &
    terrorism, 35)Rules concerning the Armaments Agency, 36)Self-employment
    rights, 37)Social Security Unanimity, 38)Space, 39)Sport, 40)Structural
    & Cohesion Funds,

    41)Tourism, 42)Transport, 43)Withdrawal of a member state.
    Please Copy, Post, Share.

    • Andy

      Solution: pass an Act of Supremacy. What Parliament gave Parliament may take back.

      • Conway

        Strange how so many MPs (including mine) voted against affirming the sovereignty of Parliament, wasn’t it?

    • global city

      Highlighting this after the by-election must be a priority for UKIP and all decent minded Eurosceptics.

      They must also push home the fact that if UKIP withers away then so will the referendum.

  • Fenster1

    Great article. Well done.

  • MikeF

    Well democracy can produce surprises – the reason the left don’t really care for it – but uness a lot of people have gone to the polls and voted UKIP in the council elections and LibDem in the European ones then in the UK at least we are about to witness some election results that would have been literally unimaginable even a decade ago. Across western Europe, meanwhile, there could be the start of a revolution as profound as the one that reshaped eastern Europe two and a half decades ago – no wonder some people don’t appear to like it.

  • telemachus

    FN, Golden Dawn, UKIP
    All the same
    We get the message

    • Ricky Strong

      Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…….

    • Simon Delancey

      Too bad that the article says the exact opposite!

      To lump together fascist parties (Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, Jobbik in Hungary, the BNP) with bellicose but essentially constitutional anti-immigration movements (FN in France, PVV in the Netherlands, Freedom Party in Austria) is clumsy. To add in eurosceptic parties of the democratic right (AfD in Germany, Mouvement pour la France, Danish People’s Party, Ukip) is deliberately tendentious.

      When someone groups all these parties together under the label ‘extreme right’, he is telling you more about himself than about them.

      • telemachus

        But there are many things in common between for example Golden Dawn and Ukip

        • Alexsandr

          yes. they have got one thing right. The EU is bad for their country.

        • Pootles

          Are there ? Then list them.

        • Andy

          Like there are so many things in common with the Fascist Labour Party and the National Socialists.

          • Wessex Man

            Well said, after the European count here in Wiltshire we went to a very popular working class Pub for a well earned refreshment. When the people drinking there saw our rosettes the entire Pub rose up and clapped and shock our hands. You’ve lost tele babe, the people of this country don’t trust Labour, Tory and the Lib/dums anymore, you all cemented it with your vile childish proganda that backfired on you all.

            • ktetch

              Will they still be clapping and shaking your hands in a years time when the UKIP MEP’s (yet again) manage to both have some of the worst attendance records, and some of the highest expenses claims, and a history of voting (if they can be bothered) against legislation in the UK’s interest out of a sense of ‘sabotage’.

              • global city

                ‘Highest expense claims’ marks you out immediately as someone who knows nothing of the system, but who just parrots slurs picked up somewhere.

                The attendance record assertion is also misplaced. Are sceptics really supposed to work every day passing legislation aimed at integration with every line of text?

                • ktetch

                  eh, slight problem with that.
                  One of us speaks to MEPs if not daily, then weekly. one of us audits political party accounts, One of us was in charge of coordinating a multi-national European Parliament campaign in 09. One of us has looked at the raw record data on expenses and attendance. And one of us is just parroting a line from a UKIP spokesman.

                  How many of those can you identify correctly?

                  Don’t believe me? Here, try asking UKIP to publish their expense data, see how hard they’ll fight to avoid proving how much they claim.

                • global city

                  Post the stuff on here?

                  There are no expenses that can be manipulated to create higher amounts.
                  ALL MEP’s have set (and grotesquely generous) allowences.

                  Explain to everyone how the UKIP manage to abuse a pot that no other MEP can?

        • Simon Delancey

          What “things in common” apart from the Euroscepticism? Golden Dawn is an actual honest-to-God fascist movement whereas UKIP is more of a libertarian party. Golden Dawn has more in common with New Labour than UKIP…

        • iviv44

          It sounds from the article as though Golden Dawn have the same love of the red flag and high taxation / state spending as your favourite Mr Balls. Maybe he has more in common with Golden Dawn than any UK Tory :)

        • Wessex Man

          There are many things in common with Syria and the Labour party, just as the criminals pass on power there so do the UK labour party, Blair, Benn, Straw etc etc.

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