The European Union has temporarily excused itself from the history of the Old Continent. Perhaps it’s waiting for a new government in Berlin to give it marching orders, or perhaps it’s because of the embarrassing perception of its almost complete impotence.
Unable to get the so-called Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) — countries which, in addition to opposing the very idea of a European migration policy, are cultivating their own disturbing interpretation of democracy — to budge even an inch, the E.U. now finds itself faced with an Austrian election result that moves in the same direction.
But it is hard to imagine that it will react with the same loud indignation with which it welcomed the entrance of Haider into the Vienna government between 2000 and 2002.
Moreover, Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPOE has staked everything on projecting an image of normality, cleaning up the reputation of the party of the extremist folklore that Haider’s followers used to revel in.
Then again, all the major European countries are having to contend with an ascendant Right, and as a result must carefully manage the various possibilities and arguments for including them in the political space. This is something that the popular Sebastian Kurz has achieved with the utmost zeal and undoubted success.
There is silence from Europe even on the Spanish front, where it is becoming increasingly clear that Mariano Rajoy’s government is not open to any form of dialogue and is staking everything on Barcelona’s capitulation. To hell with the political, cultural and social wounds that this outcome would cause, and their unpredictable consequences. And all this with the shocking complicity of the Socialists, willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of the nation state.
The truth is that right now the economic emergency is broadly under control, fiscal discipline reigns supreme, and financial returns seem secure and stable, so it would be unwise to go and poke the sensibilities of nation states, even with no more than modest attempts at persuasion, as, after all, they are managing their own duties at home so well.
The European institutions are maintaining a safe distance from crisis situations, entrenched behind the most opaque diplomatic formalism. Thus, the effectiveness of democracy, and, above all, the issue of migrants, have become taboo subjects. Even the mostly innocuous “values” rhetoric has disappeared from the agenda.
There will be no anathema hanging over Vienna and its new leader, who boasts of having successfully defended the eastern borders of the Union from Muslim invasion. This silence and this prudent position do not, however, protect the E.U. from being the object of anti-European sentiments and policies.
All the nationalist forces have now articulated a narrative that places social problems in close relationship with the European policies and with migrations, viewed as transnational phenomena that worsen, to an equal extent, the living standard of a more or less imaginary “native” community.
This rhetorical combination has been successful — there’s no use denying it. But if it proves unable to rupture the liberal establishment, to which many interests are closely bound, it is on the Left that this narrative deals the most damage.
Even relegating the idea of an alliance between the far right and the Social Democrats in Austria to the realm of nightmares and paradoxes where it belongs (while whispers of it are being heard nonetheless), it is obvious that in some circles on the Left, the “national priority” of fighting against wage dumping and the impoverishment of the welfare system, both blamed on immigration, has indeed made inroads.
The ongoing debate within die Linke in Germany, a party particularly affected by the hemorrhaging of votes to the right and the AfD in the poorest eastern regions, reflects this situation. The party wing headed by Sarah Wagenknecht and Oskar Lafontaine is attacking the “open doors” policy, which the party co-chair, Katja Kipping, still defends as being ideological, anti-social and anti-worker.
On this road toward isolation that reflexes of order and cultural regression are making their effects felt, moving toward the return of an authoritarian statism, or elements of it, which may constitute an effective terrain of compromise with right-wing nationalism.