EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried

Guest post by Etienne Borocco in France: Europe went to the polls last weekend and elected a lot of fringe politicians to the EU parliament. So what does it all mean?

Traditionally, the turnout is low in the European elections: only about 40%. This year, it was 43%. The functioning of the European Union is quite complex, as depicted in the chart below:

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner - Wikipedia)

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner – Wikipedia)

Why the EU elections matter — and why the media and most voters ignore them:

The directly elected European parliament and the unelected Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) co-decide legislation. The European Commission has the monopoly of initiative, i.e. it is the only one to initiate proposals. The European Parliament can vote on and amend proposals and has the prerogative to vote on budgets. If the Council of European Union say no to a project and the parliament yes, the project is rejected. So the parliament is often described as powerless and its work, which is often about very technical subjects, does not hold the media’s attention very much. Consequently, the European elections to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a low turnout – and a lot of electors use it to express concerns about national subjects.

For example in France, 37% of the registered voters answered that they would vote by first considering national issues and 34% also answered that they would vote to sanction the government. The proportional vote system (in contrast with America’s first-past-the-post Congressional elections, for example) gives an additional incentive to vote honestly according to one’s opinion, rather than strategically for a major party (or major blocs of allied parties in the case of the EU parliament).

The May 25th European election was a shock in the European Union, even after the small parties had long been expected to do well. The biggest parliamentary groups in the European parliaments lost seats, while parties that reject or contest the European Union rose dramatically.

In Denmark, in the United Kingdom, and in France, the anti-euro right wing took the first place. It was particularly striking in France because unlike the traditionally euroskeptic UK or Denmark, France was one of the founding countries of European integration and is a key member of the eurozone (while the other two are outside it). The Front National (FN), which has anti-EU and anti-immigration positions, gathered one quarter of the vote in France. Non-mainstream parties captured significant shares in other countries, although they did not finish first.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

The new seat allocations:

Let’s look at the gains and losses. With the exception of the socialist bloc, the traditional parties lost seats — particularly in the mainstream conservative EPP and centrist ALDE blocs, which virtually collapsed. The May 25 European parliamentary elections also marked the notable appearance of new populist right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, among the newer member states. For example, two conservative libertarian parties (movements that are a bit like a European version of Ron Paul) won seats – the KNP in Poland and Svobodní in Czech Republic. Moreover, the national government ruling parties were hugely rejected in most countries, whether by populist fringe parties dominating (as in France, the UK and Denmark) or by the main national opposition parties beating the ruling parties.


Among the non-aligned (NA) members elected, if we exclude the six centrists MEPs of the Spanish UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy), the 35 MEPs remaining are from far-right parties.

Among the 60 “Others” MEPs, there are 3 MEPs of Golden Dawn in Greece and 1 MEP of the NPD in Germany, both of which are neo-Nazi parties. The NPD was able to win a seat this year because Germany abolished the 3% threshold. With 96 seats for Germany, only 1.04% of the vote is enough to get a seat. The Swedish Democrats (far right) got 2 seats. In total, 38 MEPs represent far-right parties, out of a total of 751 MEPs.

So why do observers talk about an explosion of far right?

Beyond those scattered extremists, the vote for the more organized euroskeptic, hardcore conservative, and far right parties all increased sharply. The UKIP in UK (26.77%, +10), the National Front (FN) in France (24.95%, +18), the Danish People’s Party (DPP) (26.6%,+10) and the FPÖ in Austria (19.7%,+7) rocketed from the fringe to center stage. The UKIP, the FN, and the DPP all arrived first in their countries’ respective nationwide elections, which is new.

Other parties elsewhere did not come in first but performed unexpectedly (or alarmingly, depending on the party) well this year. For example, although the Golden Dawn only won three seats from Greece, they did so by winning 9.4% of the country’s vote, even as an openly neo-Nazi party. The Swedish Democrats (9.7%, +6.43) and the Alternative For Germany (7%, new) also made a noteworthy entry in the parliament.

Their shared characteristic of all these parties, regardless of platform and country of origin, is that they are populist in some way.

True, under the word “populism,” a lot of different parties are gathered and their ideologies may vary. While most of these parties claim to be very different, we can, nonetheless, put everyone in the same basket for the purposes of this analysis, to understand why the results were so shocking. Their core point in common is that they all claim represent the people against “the elite” and “Brussels” which embodies both “evils”: the EU and the euro.

We could use the following system to classify like-minded populist parties:
Read more

France announces indefinite Sahel deployment

France’s defense minister has just announced plans to create a semi-permanent force of 4,000 troops across the entire Sahel and Sahara in former French West Africa, as it redeploys most of its troops in Mali.

“There will be 1,000 soldiers that remain in Mali, and 3,000 in the Sahel-Sahara zone, the danger zone, the zone of all types of smuggling,” Mr Le Drian said, in a television interview.

“We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date,” he added.

French forces will be based in four regional centres – Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso – Reuters news agency reports.

Smaller bases from which to launch strikes are being set up, with Ivory Coast as the mission’s logistical hub, it adds.

I find this development fairly troubling. France should too. Open-ended commitments are rarely a good idea.

However, it’s also not surprising, given the increasing re-involvement of France in the security affairs of its former African colonies in the past decade. A small, permanent force in several locations in or near the Sahel/Sahara is probably the only way (from a feasibility standpoint) that France can both avoid permanent and ineffective occupations (at much higher cost in lives and money) and respond quickly to rising threats, kidnappings, etc., which it feels it must do for its own security.

All the same, this open-ended, rapid-reaction wack-a-mole approach to counterterrorism — where they keep thousands of troops all over West Africa (and Central African Republic nearby) before periodically bursting into neighboring countries for a minute, guns blazing, like Operation Neptune Spear — makes France seem more than a bit neo-colonial.

French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)It also seems like an easy step down the path toward becoming completely mired in an unwinnable, transnational counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel — something others have warned against previously often.

As ever, the Sahel needs more of a Marshall Plan development aid strategy than troop deployments.

Colonial sci-fi

Very interesting Atlantic article this week: “Why Sci-Fi Keeps Imagining the Subjugation of White People”

A researcher doing a meta-analysis of science fiction found its initial rise to prominence and formation as a coherent genre is tied directly to the height of imperial Britain and colonial France, both in time and place. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and so on.

(And though it wasn’t mentioned in the piece, American sci-fi like A Princess of Mars/John Carter of Mars, a serialized allegory about the American Civil War, rose to prominence just a little later as America became a global power, between the Spanish-American War and U.S. entry into World War I.)

After its origins in imperial Britain and colonial France, the genre’s allegory has broadly bifurcated into “we’ll get what was coming to us for the horrors of colonial oppression” versus “man, this is awesome — we should keep killing everyone who doesn’t look like us because we’re the best, and if we don’t, we’ll be oppressed, and white people don’t deserve that.”

As for myself, I find my tastes distinctly in the former camp. Box office bomb aside, I refused to watch Disney’s “John Carter” on principle, because the original story is an obvious allegorical paean to the Confederacy and antebellum South through the lens of a race war between aliens on another planet. The antebellum South, of course, being the height of America’s internal white supremacist colonialism.

Also my tastes tend that way just because I’m totally the type of person who would try to surrender the entire planet to an invading alien military, instead of trying to re-enact “Independence Day.” Maybe that makes me the Marshal Philippe Pétain of our planetary future, but I just assume that if a huge landing force of aliens arrives at Earth while we’re still sending people to our dinky “space” station (which is actually still in our atmosphere) on barely-upgraded-from-the-Soviet-era spaceships, we’ve probably already lost that conflict. Better to surrender quickly and wage a guerrilla resistance to wear the occupiers down — what we humans do best — than try to fight off the initial invasion and lose everything. Or, failing that, we’ll just get what’s coming to us.

Illustration: "Martians vs. Thunder Child" from a 1906 printing of "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells.

Illustration: “Martians vs. Thunder Child” from a 1906 printing of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells.

More intervention troops to Central African Republic?

As the reciprocal mass killings continue to rage across the Central African Republic despite the rising numbers of regional African Union troops and existing French United Nations troops, the U.N. is now saying they may need at least ten thousand intervention troops, several thousand more than have already been ordered to the country. These troops, unlike many peacekeeping missions, are authorized to use proactive force to protect civilians and end violence.

The AU intervention force — which has already clashed repeatedly with protesters and militia groups over their conflicts-of-interest in the country — will soon be at 6,000. The UN has also already cleared 600 more intervention troops to come in from the European Union. Former colonial ruler France alone has 1,200 troops on the ground, mostly protecting key points in the capital, including refugees at the airport.

More than 1 in 5 people in the country has been forced to flee their homes, caught in the vengeful crossfire of Muslim and Christian militias after a rebel coalition was disbanded and went on a rampage last year. Unlike the reasonably cautious negotiation progress seen in next-door South Sudan, the C.A.R. has not seen much relief from the violence and humanitarian crisis, despite the efforts of a dozen leaders from across the region, who even secured the appointment of a new bridge-building president recently.

The large country, facing a refugee crisis of one million, will probably realistically require more than even ten thousand. But if the lengthy problems with the neighboring Congo missions are any indication, a United Nations force will always be under-manned relative to the scale and geography of the crisis. Plus, with the recent deaths of peacekeeping troops in South Sudan, while protecting refugees on a UN base, it’s going to be a tough sell right now to get countries to contribute boots on the ground.

UN backs French peacekeepers into Central African Republic

After sectarian killings in the Central African Republic accelerated this week, leaving over a hundred dead on Thursday morning alone, the United Nations Security Council finally acted to authorize France to begin an active peacekeeping role, with its troops who were already on their way. Air and street patrols began today in the capital. The French troops join a small African Union force also on the ground already.

Background discussion: Episode 65.

France: Back to Africa

From the BBC’s West Africa analyst, Paul Melly, today:

Central African Republic crisis: Another French intervention?
A fresh crisis in Africa – and once again French troops are on their way. This time around 1,000 extra soldiers are heading to the Central African Republic (CAR) to restore order after a rebel takeover. They will supplement the 400 odd French troops already on the ground in the country.

So what’s new? Is this just a case of Paris once again acting as gendarme in a former sub-Saharan colony?

Are we back to the days when the famously influential Jacques Foccart acted as Africa adviser in the Elysee Palace and French paratroops made and unmade governments, protecting allies – some of them deeply unsavoury – and displacing supposed troublemakers?


But the temptation to reach for old history should be resisted. We are not in the 1970s. Africa has changed. And so has France.

This piece is a very solid and detailed look at the major shift in Africa policy undertaken by the Socialists during the 1990s and then again since 2012. Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative from the UMP, also made contributions in the same direction — but his less diplomatic approach toward interventions angered many African leaders, whereas François Hollande works closely with regional leaders to get their approval prior to going into Mali, earlier this year.

Sarkozy’s biggest achievement, however, was crucial: ending France’s official support for “incumbent regimes” in Africa friendly toward France. Now, bad is bad and no dictators are automatically safe.

Further background on the situation in the Central African Republic: AFD Episode 65 and Episode 60.

AFD 60 – Furlough

Latest Episode:
“AFD 60 – Furlough”
Posted: Tues, 15 October 2013

Guest commentator Melanie joins Bill to talk about the impact of having most Federal workers on unpaid leave from their jobs during the shutdown. Then Bill looks at food inspection problems in the U.S. Guest commentator Sarah discusses a court decision in Nebraska. Bill examines political mirroring between France and a former African colony.

Additional links: