EU elections: The vaccine no longer works

The results of the European elections were, in some sense, more of the same. The dominant blocs in the incoming Parliament will remain the European People’s Party (moderate Right) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (moderate Left). Fears that the far Right would somehow triumph did not materialise.

And yet — the results should force the left and labour movement to confront the challenge of a resurgent far Right across the continent.

If we focus on just the three biggest countries with the largest number of members of the 720-seat European Parliament, the picture becomes quite clear. Those countries are Germany, France and Italy.

In France, as expected, the Rassemblement National (RN), the party headed by Marine Le Pen, did exceptionally well, triggering a political crisis in the country. President Macron has hastily called for parliamentary elections at the end of June as a result.

In Italy, Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), the ruling party led by Giorgia Meloni also did very well and this too was expected.

And in Germany, the far Right led by the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) had its best result, taking 15 of Germany’s 96 seats in the Parliament, placing second in the poll. But here was no good news for the left, as the ruling SPD vote collapsed.

The electoral success of those three far right parties poses a threat to European democracy.

What they all have in common is not only that they are considered to be far Right and that they are all riding a wave of popularity. In addition to that, they have a shared history of what might be called a “complicated relationship” with fascism.

The RN, when it was the party headed by Marine Le Pen’s father, was widely seen as a successor to the traditional French right which had been tainted since 1940 with allegations of antisemitism and fascism. Le Pen himself blurted out more than one antisemitic remark adding fuel to the fire. He was actually fined by a French court after referring to the Holocaust as a mere ‘detail of history’.

Meloni and her FdI are also historically linked to fascism. Her party is the natural successor to the post-war embodiment of Italian fascism, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI). As a budding young politician, Meloni told an interviewer that Mussolini was a “good politician, in that everything he did, he did for Italy”. She has said similar things since then.

As for Germany’s AfD, they need to walk a fine line to distinguish themselves from the Nazis, otherwise their party could be outlawed. And yet despite that, their leaders sometimes say things that make the link explicit. The party’s lead candidate in this year’s elections,
Maximilian Krah, told journalists that SS members weren’t automatically “criminals”.
“It depends,” he said. “You have to assess blame individually. At the end of the war there were almost a million SS. … Before I declare someone a criminal, I want to know what he did.” Krah’s comments were so offensive that even Marine Le Pen had to distance herself from them.

Not all the election news was bad for the left. In France we saw the revival of the Socialist Party, which had nearly disappeared from the French political scene following disastrous election results. It did much better under the new leadership of 44-year-old Raphaël Glucksmann. And in Italy, the Democratic Party (formerly the Communists) had one of their best results in years under their new leader, the 39-year-old Elly Schlein.

Esther Lynch, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, said that “business as usual cannot continue. Europe needs to urgently resolve the economic and social insecurity that lies behind growing anger and fear in our society. We know that people who are dissatisfied with their pay and working conditions, and have little say over their job, are more likely to be vulnerable to far-right messages.”

That’s true, but there’s more to it than that.

When the Second World War was finally over in 1945, Europe made an attempt to vaccinate itself against any return to the Nazi or fascist regimes. For several decades, the vaccine worked. In Germany in particular, neo-Nazi parties never really got off the ground, and were frequently outlawed by a German state committed to preserving the country’s new-found democracy.

Today, as these elections reveal, that vaccine no longer seems to be working. European politicians can express their admiration for fascist or Nazi dictators and still win elections. And in the next European Parliament, admirers of Hitler, Mussolini and other dictators will sit as elected members.

As we would say during the recent pandemic, it is time for a booster jab, a new vaccine to protect Europe from its totalitarian past. It is up to the left and the labour movement to administer that jab.

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.