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Welcome to Napoleon’s Euro Zone

European Union 2014

Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff - published on 05/26/14

Exactly that is what is driving the rise of not only Eurosceptic Parties, but more extreme parties. Thus there is the victory of the Front National in France (which is on the right) and now has the largest number of French seats in the European Parliament — defeating both the Gaullists and the Socialists. While the Syriza party in Greece (which is on the left) has won an estimated 27 percent of the vote, four points clear of the center-right’s New Democracy, which is headed by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. 

Greek unemployment remains the highest in the Eurozone which at 25.3 percent is just above that of Spain. And once again, the main legacy parties there suffered major setbacks. The People’s Party of Spain narrowly defeated the Socialists in the vote, but the real interest lay with the smaller insurgent parties which won two out of every five votes cast. In the words of Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos (“We Can,” a political movement that emerged amidst the rage of Spain’s indignados) which earned 7.9 percent of the vote and 5 seats: “We can’t talk about the end, but we can talk about the beginning of the end of bipartisanship. We have to throw them out because they’re the ones who have ruined the country.”

It will not suffice now for the political elites of the European establishment merely to look down from their lofty bowers upon the vulgar masses, in the manner of French aristocrats of 1789 upon les sans culottes. After all, we know how that ended — and they lost their heads.

The mere contrivance of stifling dissent by withdrawing choice on the basis that an enlightened consensus of the wise is so much better, cannot be sustained. The cut and thrust of true policy debate, which offers the electorate true alternatives is surely the best antidote to extremism. This will, however, be a hard lesson for Brussels to learn. Already, within the European Parliament, the talk is of a form of agreement whereby the center-right and center-left parties will simply form grand coalition to shut out all the new vulgar Eurosceptic arrivistes. At its heart the Brussels bureaucracy, which underpins all the structures of the Union, sees itself as the guardian of an elite and rational vision worthy of the philosopher kings of Plato. As a professed meritocracy it has the assurance that comes with a deep sense of entitlement which is dangerous, in such times as these, insofar as it stands opposed to the politics of change.                                                                   

It was Marx who said of Napoleon that he “swept away everywhere the establishments of feudality” and that is surely the spirit of this election too, which points to the further fact that truly popular political reality must drive any true integration for Europe, or it will not work at all. It can never be a thing of mere elites and economics. To borrow a phrase from The Mind of Napoleon, “A form of government that is not the result of a long sequence of shared experiences, efforts, and endeavors can never take root.”

So it seems that Napoleon had a point after all.

The Rev. Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff is Senior Advisor to the King Abdullah Bin Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue and Director General of the World Dialogue Council.

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