Europe’s not really been a key issue in this election so far, but it will become eventually I suppose. Farage :crazy: made an attempt to do so last night. Although he seemed to spend more of his time having a go at the audience (Farage’s dog whistle politics act tend to only work with a compliant audience who clap obediently at suitable pauses….or scream sieg heil :))).
I caught a rather scary Storyville episode on i-player the other week, which traced the rise and rise of populist euroskeptic parties and the danger they pose. One of the effects of the financial crisis, and the lack of political leadership, has been to create a power vacuum which has been filled by a variety of parties promoting increasingly insane policies. And there are many myths that have engrained themselves with EU voters that simply aren’t true.
As one Dutch commentator points out, if the government does a crap job, everyone says okay let’s vote in a new government. You’ll hear very few, outside of a few tinfoil hat wearing libertarian circles, calling for us to get rid of the government altogether (and turn the country into Somalia!)….but euroskeptic parties can basically do the same thing and get away with it, even though this is an equally insane suggestion.
I’ve dug into the follies of UKIP before, plus the fact that they are not really a free-market orientated party, but some sort of neo-national socialist hybrid. Well it might be worth looking at their French allies, the Front National, under Marine Le Pen, daughter of Algerian War criminal and part time nazi sympathiser Jean-Marie Le Pen. They have been riding high in the polls and are predicted to at least make the second round of voting in next year’s French presidential election.
Marine Le Pen supports policies ranging from withdrawal from the EU, NATO, WTO, etc., restoring family values, cutting taxes, increasing public spending….and much else. Frankly her policies are so obviously contradictory its hard to be specific about anything. For example she’s on record of both being in favour of a phase out of French nuclear power…but also wanting to see it expanded! :??:
Her family values position falls flat when you realise she’s divorced….twice! (nothing wrong with that, but its a bit rich her saying to women to stay in a loveless, perhaps abusive, marriage when she won’t).
So suffice to say, the bulk of FN policy is to blame the EU and
nasty evil hobbits Jews immigrants for everything wrong with France ever! Of course, as I’ve pointed out before with regard to Britain, most of the myths about immigration are simply that – myths and outright lies. In France too, much of what FN spout is similarly, racist dog whistling with no foundation in facts.
No country for young men
Indeed to concentrate on the issue of employment, for it is the high rates of unemployment in France that is driving many towards the FN. However migrants and French are after different sorts of jobs. Part of the problem in Europe over the last few years is that the number of entry level jobs for young graduates has dried up, largely because large firms aren’t hiring, but also because there’s been a slow down in staff moving jobs. And France, with its many state owned or state supported companies, has seen this rather acutely.
This is largely because many salaried workers are afraid to change jobs because they fear they either won’t get a job elsewhere or won’t get as good a deal, notably due to changes in pension policy (I just changed jobs myself and my pension’s taken a bit of a hit 88|). Equally, their immediate boss is unwilling to sack people, because he knows that anyone who leaves (be it through redundancy, retirement or otherwise) won’t be replaced.
So its not so much a glass ceiling, but a grey haired one. The mainstream parties have proposed policies to solve this ranging from making it easier for firms to sack workers, privatisation (ya that worked out great in the UK!), raising the minimum wage, changes to pensions, encouraging apprenticeships and internships, more spending on education, higher taxes for the wealthy (to fund these policies), etc. However it is the very act of trying to implement these policies that is exactly what’s made the mainstream parties in France so unpopular! The idea that the FN can some how defy economic gravity is of course bonkers.
Kicking out migrants will not help French people find jobs. In fact it could have the opposite effect, by driving away entrepreneurs and others looking to invest in the country. The result is very likely to be scenes of crops rotting in the fields (notably on French vineyards) and it being impossible to get a taxi in Paris, or find a shop open after 5pm on a Sunday. Hardly progress is it?
Death spiral of an economy
As for leaving the EU, well what currency is she planning on using afterwards? Not the Euro, as you need to be an EU member for that. Probably they’d bring back the Franc. However, given the economic disruption this would cause, that currency will struggle to compete against the Euro (backed up by the Germans and other more vibrant low debt and growing economies in Eastern Europe) and thus the Franc would probably rapidly loose value.
Given that many French companies, such as for example Airbus, depend on integrated manufacturing, any trade barrier (such as leaving the EU) will make their operations impossible, so they could well up stakes and leave. Indeed Renault, that most French of firms, could well be tempted to move operations to Romania and Eastern Europe, where it already has a substantial stake in car production (the irony, French auto workers leaving France to seek work in Romania!). And many of those migrants the FN want to kick out are helping to offset the fact that France is an ageing country with fewer and fewer French paying the taxes for more and more retirees. Losing them would throw France into an instant deficit spiral that its not going to be easy to pull out of.
Like Greece, these factors would make it impossible for France to service its public debts, inevitably leading to a default. Except while the Germans (and the French!) are holding the bag when it comes to Greek debt, a lot of France’s debt is held by investors within France. So a banking collapse is very likely and its quite probable that all of these bigoted French pensioners voting for FN could well loose all of their savings and pension pot. As well as making it impossible for the French government to fund the state pension or healthcare costs of the elderly.
I’m reminded of those Stella adverts a few years ago, where French peasants go to various extraordinary lengths just to earn one pint of cheap Belgian beer. Well that could become an everyday reality for many French if the FN have their way. And keep in mind that before the EU came along, many in rural France, as with the rest of Europe, were desperately poor.
I can even envisage, a couple of years out from a National Front victory, the following conversation being had by set of Eastern European middle class couples:
Well we normally go to Croatia this time of year for some sunshine, but seeing as we’re trying to save due to the new house, we decided to economise and went to France instead….Okay, it was tough filling in all those visa forms…oh! and the security at the airport was terrible….and there was the worry about crime….so many poor people there, and old people begging everywhere….but everything was so cheap….I mean we got that sparkling wine, in this little vineyard, what was it called….Bollinger or something….ya, just 200,000 francs a bottle….that’s about 8 euro’s….beautiful, way better than the Australian stuff…..Then there was the Louvre, which is where all those paintings in the Chinese national gallery we saw last year came from….and we got to see the Eiffel tower….before it got dismantled….ya, some Dubai billionaire has bought it and plans to put it up in his casino resort…we should visit that sometime…but next year we think we’ll risk it again and go to England, we heard that since those UKIP guys took over you can stay in one of the Queen’s old palaces now for next to nothing, just a few hundred thousand sterling a night…..
I recall suggesting before that any pensioners thinking of voting UKIP should taste cat food first as that will likely be their stable diet if UKIP take over. Well to French pensioners I’d suggest just learning how to go through dustbins and the mandarin or German for spare change please.
Of course for the well heeled old money who bankroll the FN, this would be excellent news. As not since the days of Louis the XIIII have they been able to lord over their fellow French men. And naturally the Russians, who also help to finance the National Front, would be trilled to see France take a turn for the worse, particularly if she left NATO. Indeed its worth remembering the links between UKIP and Russia too (the spirit of Vidkun Quisling is alive and well it would seem!)
The lesson of history
I’ve heard some argue that the best thing to do is let these eurosceptic parties take power. More often than not the bulk of their supporters are simply angry morons voting anti-establishment to make themselves feel better. Of course once their party is actually part of the government, much of their support will evaporate as they’ll be shown to be no better, if not far worse, than any of the other parties.
However, this analysis ignores the enormous damage that such parties could do. Its equivalent to arguing that we should let a suicidal person take over the controls of an airliner, as it might make him feel better. Ya, but he could well put the airplane into a fatal dive which the pilot can’t safely pull out of. Similarly, letting the likes of Front National or UKIP take charge of a major country and they could screw things up so badly as to make it impossible for the damage to be undone.
And least we forget, this is how Hitler got into power. The other right wing parties who helped him into power assumed that once he was inside the glass house of democracy, he couldn’t throw rocks anymore, the hypocrisies in his policies would be exposed and he’d be driven from office and quickly forgotten about. However, they didn’t figure on him ending democracy altogether.
I mean if France or England left the EU, would they be allowed back in? Certainly not under the same conditions that they currently enjoy and certainly not without rolling back many of the very things these far-right parties propose. An impoverished France or England would have pass certain economic tests (which won’t be easy) and would have to homogeneous (and there’s a good chance the UK could break up, with similar issues in France). Failure to meet these conditions, would invalidate any membership application. Nevermind the very strong chance of either state being simply blackballed by other nations (such as by a newly independent Scotland!) for a variety of reasons.
So what’s to be done? Well firstly, accept why these parties are gaining support actually has very little to do with immigration, as in truth immigration isn’t the cause of anything they blame it for. Yes there are issues with the small minority of migrants (often from outside the EU) who are here for less than genuine reasons (asylum or to seek work). But these are issues best tackled via a common EU policy, something which leaving the EU will make less likely. Also there are issues of some migrants not integrating (when in Rome and all that). However, this is a problem that often gets exaggerated and there are other solutions to it.
The main reason driving Euroscepticism is in truth the present economic situation and a lack of EU solidarity when it comes to dealing with it. Much like the Marshall plan was used to rebuild Europe post-war we need a new EU funded Marshall plan to help struggling EU economies to recover.
We need the people in states like Greece (or France) to accept that things aren’t going to go back to the way they were. Because the period prior to the crash represented a dangerous unsustainable bubble. Sacrifices will have to be made, although at the same time help is needed for these economies to rebuild themselves. Recall that the core principle of the EU has always been the cooperation is better than conflict. The national rivalry that existed prior to the EU, something UKIP or FN seem intent on reviving, condemned the continent to war after war.