With the votes counted, results declared and MEPs both new and old sworn in, the immediate concern of the comfortably salaried parliamentarians turns to the nitty-gritty of bourgeois politics: power.
But in politics, as in everyday life, power — the question of who has it and what they do with it — is not an uncomplicated matter. Things are complicated further still by the convoluted procedures and mechanisms of the European Parliament.
To gain access to important committees, the real powerhouses of Brussels and Strasbourg, and avoid containment in the basically meaningless hand-raising chambers, individual parties from across Europe must band together.
Most often the banding together appears an entirely logical affair. The “Social Democrats” form a group; “Liberals” stick together; “Greens” plough their own field.
This time round there are some instructive developments on the right and extreme right that give indication of the strengths and weaknesses of conservative, nationalist and fascistic groups in Europe and provides a glimpse at the underbelly of those who present themselves as the “respectable” right.
The British National Party and their two elected MEPs have naturally made alliances with the other fascist organisations, but not all of them. Although the extreme-right gained enough seats to form their own group in parliament, they have not done so.
Why? Because not surprisingly British fascists — who spend a large portion of the energies whipping up hatred against, say, Slovaks and Romanians — don’t exactly see eye-to-eye with Slovakian and Romanian fascists. The Slovaks and Romanian fascists in turn have some unpleasant things to say about the Hungarians, whose fascists want little to do with them. It’s a rather pleasing mess.
Fascist groups unable to form a coalition with others on the right, like the BNP, France’s Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik party — which organises as a militia, complete with uniforms and traditional fascist symbols — have found themselves lumped together in the “non-inscrits” or “non-attached” group. This grouping has no concrete ideological unity and includes individual electoral outliers with no connection to fascism. The “non-inscrits” will not have easy access to positions of influence or to the extra funding that comes with a united ideological group. This is good news.
When you add to the mix the deeply anti-Muslim but strongly pro-Israel Geert Wilders from the Dutch “Party of Freedom”, things get even more complex. Wilders’, a racist extremist towards certain minorities, would seem natural company for fascist organisations looking for friends. But Wilders would prefer to remain isolated and powerless within the European Parliament rather than ally himself with anti-semites.
The same cannot be said for David Cameron’s Conservatives.
Cameron announced before the elections that the Tories would be leaving their traditional home, a centre-right group including the parties of government in France and Germany, in opposition to Sarkozy’s and Merkel’s philo-Europeanism and their support for the Lisbon Treaty. He announced that he’d be looking for new friends in Europe.
He’s found them, but they’re not quite what you’d expect of a party that’s been working hard to reposition itself away from a “Nasty Party” image towards a cuddlier, eco-friendly, more socially liberal one.
The Tories’ new friends include the Dutch Reformed Political Party, which cites the Bible in its arguments against women standing for public office; the Lijst Dedecker, a Flemish nationalist group whose leader has called for “global chemotherapy against Islam”; and the Czech Civic Democrats, who describe global warming as a myth.
The icing on the cake of this rag-bag clutch of extremists is the Polish Law and Justice Party. Representatives of this group have called homosexuality a “pathology” and greeted the election of Barak Obama as marking “an impending catastrophe — the end of the civilisation of the white man”.
The Law and Justice Party, when in power in Poland, wielded classical nationalistic devices to smear and undermine critics. The party utilised the considerable power of the Catholic Church to bolster its support, suggesting that any person or group opposed to their policy was engaged in a conspiracy against the dominant religion.
Critics were accused of being national traitors and leading supporters and figures in national government took to the airwaves on a rabid Catholic station to promulgate their homophobia, sexism, national chauvinism and anti-semitism. Where the racist Wilders fears to tread, Cameron has waded in up to his neck.
The most high profile of Cameron’s long list of embarrassments is the record of Michal Kaminski, the Law and Justice Party’s leader in the European Parliament. Kaminski has campaigned vociferously against national commemorations and apologies for anti-semitic atrocities carried out by Poles during and after the Second World War. The most notorious of these was the Jedwabne pogrom in July 1941 where up to 400 local Jews were rounded up by their Polish neighbours, taken to a barn and burnt alive. Kaminski the anti-semite is now the Tories friend in Europe.
These developments are all pretty repulsive in and of themselves, but what do they tell us about the near political future? All indications point towards a considerable Tory victory in the 2010 general elections. On the economic front we have been forewarned that the new Chancellor and his team will make huge cuts across the public services and reduce taxation. Out of the ashes of the economic crisis, the Tory free-marketeers must hope for a renewed wave of capitalist expansion. They will use their governmental power to support this regardless of the costs to workers.
What about the social front? We have seen that Cameron is prepared to risk political influence across Europe on ideological grounds, for almost certainly the Tories will wield less power in Europe now they’ve unhitched themselves from French and German leaders. The ideological shift chosen by Cameron can only signal a national offensive once he’s installed as Prime Minister.
The Tories may have calculated that given the palpable shift to the right in Britain — the increased support for UKIP and the BNP, a spike in racist incidents, the renewed appeal of nationalist tropes — that a sympathetic re-shifting to the right is possible. This means a return to the social conservatism of the old “Nasty Party”.
The specifics of what this could mean are unclear but our movement, the workers movement, should prepare itself to face perhaps a barrage, maybe a drip-drip, of nationalism, sexism, homophobia and fundamentally racist legal measures from the Tories in power.