26 May 2014

A pitchfork stab at the heart of the European Union

Make no mistake, this Euro election belongs to the motley but swelling regiment of pitchforks.

Like national dress they come in different styles even though they all share a dislike of Brussles, immigration and what they regard as the high-handed arrogance of ruling parties in every capital.

The unabashed neo-Nazis of Greece’s Golden Dawn. The welfare wagon circlers of Denmark’s People’s Parry. The mild-mannered economics professors of Germany’s Alternative fuer Deutschland. The radical left wing Podemos (yes we can) party of Spain – less than a year old but scoring seven per cent of the vote and declaring that “we the Spaniards do not want to become a colony of Germany and her austerity diktats”.

In the UK a man with a French-sounding name, a German wife and bilingual children wields a pint of warm English beer against the political establishment in the way that Maggie used to wield her handbag.

But the golden pitchfork of the Eurovision rant contest goes to France’s Front National and the father and daughter duo that must put even more fear into Francois Hollande than his many women wronged.

Ruffling French history

In naked numbers the rise of the Le Pens and their party is deeply alarming for the Élysées Palace. Their National Front party gained just three MEPs in the last Euro elections five years ago. They now have 25.

Yes, they only control just over a dozen of France’s thousands of municipal councils and they barely have any deputies in the National Assembly. But Marine Le Pen feels the winds of history ruffling her hair.


The country still hasn’t recovered its economic pulse after the Great Recession. Its president sits lonely and unpopular in his palace, repelling the rich with his punitive tax policies and the poor with his inability to create jobs.

France gave us the “jaquerie”, or peasants revolt, the French Revolution and now what newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls called “an earthquake” in Europe.

The British Isles have long been the heartland of Euro scepticism. The triumph of Herr Farage raises few eyebrows in Berlin. But the rise of the anti-European national front in the country of Jean Monnet, the spiritual godfather of the EU, who wanted to harness German economic power under a French political umbrella, is a pitchfork stab at the heart of the whole project.

Marine Le Pen may be the more acceptable face of the party led for so long by her abrasive father. Her language is more nuanced in as much as it less florid and more boring.

But the message remains the same: French civilization will be destroyed by a combination of Muslim immigrants, arrogant eurocrats and incompetent corrupt Parisian politicians unless the people rise up.

Populism or power?

It is blood curdling stuff. It offers virtually no practical solutions on how to get France out of its current mess but it makes millions of Gallic temples throb with righteous indignation. The question is, what will the Front National and all the other populist parties now do with their new-found clout?

The parliament in Strasbourg has new powers over the €1trillion budget and the appointment of the EU’s ruling council, the Commission. It can’t appoint. But it can veto.

Here there is some good news for the battered centre right and centre left. They still form the biggest blocks and the pitchforks are bitterly divided amongst themselves.


Ukip refuses to do business with the Front National and the Front National won’t do business with Greece’s Golden Dawn or Hungary’s Jobbik party.

And yet no-one doubts that the politics of populism are here to stay and that national governments ignore them at their peril. For at heart this electoral revolt isn’t just about Brussels or immigration – it is about the perils of globalization for a bedraggled and besieged middle class.

David Cameron may say that the election results show that many ordinary Europeans share his misgivings about the high-handedness of Brussels, and that more and more governments will now be inclined to follow his call for a renegotiation of the European treaty.

Perhaps, but in a year’s time Cameron may have to rely on Ukip to stay in Number 10. It is no longer inconceivable. And who wants to ride a tiger – even one dressed in a pin striped suite?

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