Europe's protest parties on the march


Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders (right) holds a protest pamphlet that he will hand over to the Dutch cabinet in The Hague. Photograph: Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty Images
The Netherlands' iconoclastic populist and Islam-baiter Geert Wilders is plotting a new campaign to rile the political establishment – a "resistance tour" of the country.

It is not difficult to discern where Wilders, who combines far-right anti-immigrant positions with leftist welfarism, is getting his inspiration: Rome.

The barnstorming and highly effective campaign by Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement in Italy, combining the latest in social media and internet savvy with old-fashioned piazza-pounding up and down the country, has transformed Italian politics. It may yet amplify its effect across a Europe uncommonly volatile and vulnerable to a Grillo-style insurrection.

Wilders promised to take to the bike paths, squares and shopping malls of small-town Holland later this year to mobilise resistance to Europe, immigration and bailing out Greece with Dutch taxpayers' money.

That's an agenda that fits squarely with Nigel Farage's, following Ukip's triumph coming second and beating the Tories in Eastleigh, leaving the party leader relishing next year's elections for the European parliament.

Next door to Holland in the Belgian region of Flanders, the national political establishment is running scared of, while closing ranks to try to stop, the new mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, who hopes to "confederalise" Belgium en route to killing the country off altogether.

De Wever, leading his New Flemish Alliance, is regarded as the most popular politician in Belgium.

Separatism, in Antwerp or Barcelona, is one grassroots response to the financial and economic crisis that now appears to be raising much more fundamental questions about political legitimacy across Europe.

But the backlash against the tight fiscal one-shape-fits-all orthodoxy spearheaded by Germany and orchestrated by Brussels takes various forms across Europe. In Greece the hard-left Syriza movement has prospered, along with the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, which added violence to the list of instruments deployed in the backlash of the new politics.

In Denmark, the reaction has been the more common one of Ukip-style protest politics, with opinion polls this week showing the nationalist, anti-immigrant, rightwing Danish People's party has overtaken the governing social democrats in support.

The suddenness with which Grillo has emerged and taken one in four of Italian votes may have shocked the traditional governing elite across the EU, but it shows little sign of knowing how to respond or adjusting to the message being sent by voters who have sent incumbents tumbling one after the other from Greece to Finland over the past three years.

Where voters have not "kicked out the bums", the big EU rulers have acted instead, with Berlin, Paris, Brussels, and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt conspiring to bring down elected prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and George Papandreou in Greece.

The message to the Italians from the German government this week was "you may have kicked out our politicians, but you must not kick out their policies". That was echoed by the European commission in Brussels, while the German opposition social democrat leader, Peer Steinbrück, ventured to suggest that the Italians had voted for "clowns".

On Thursday the outgoing Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, comprehensively trounced in the election, attended a European commission conference in Brussels where he enjoyed a standing ovation almost as if he had been the victor. The mismatch between the popular and elite verdicts was striking.

Monti said that in his 15 months in office he deliberately never told Italians that his programme of austerity, structural reforms, and tax rises was being implemented because of EU orders. Then he added: "Although of course it was true that the European Union was asking for them."

Given his failure, there may now be a slight shift to soften the edges of German-prescribed austerity while EU leaders also harp on, but do nothing, about repairing the vast gap opening up between the more integrationist policies they are pursuing and democratic accountability and legitimacy to underpin them.

Asked this week about this discrepancy and whether growth could be generated by austerity, a former European prime minister who also served as a senior EU official told the Guardian: "There is no growth, there won't be any growth."

"Voters now associate structural reforms with slump, rising unemployment and social stress," said Charles Grant and Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform in a paper published on Friday. "The Berlin-Brussels-Frankfurt consensus on austerity that Monti's government [pursued] has discredited the very reforms that are needed to boost the Italian economy."


Popular posts from this blog

How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters

‘Not Hospital, Al-Shifa is Hamas Hideout & HQ in Gaza’: Israel Releases ‘Terrorists’ Confessions’ | Exclusive

Former FARC guerrilla, Colombian cop pose naked together to promote peace deal