ROME, Oct. 29, 2015 (IPS) – The recent elections in Switzerland and Poland are good indicators of what will happen elsewhere in Europe, with this irresistible growing wave of refugees. But let us first make some crucial considerations.
The first is that the present system of international relations and national governance is not functioning any longer. We are in a period of transition, but nobody knows to where. The left is without a manifesto, and the right is just riding the status quo. There is no long term political thinking.
Second, we are in a “new economy,” based on the supremacy of finance over man’s production. Unelected officials, like governors of central banks and bankers, have increasingly more power than before. This “new economy” considers precarious jobs as natural, social inequality as a legitimate reality, the market as the sole basis for societal development and the state as inefficient and a brake to the private sector.
The third,is that political institutions have lost their gloss. No political party has any longer a real youth movement. They are perceived more and more as self referent, considering citizens just as an electorate, and they are seen as more part of the system in power than spokespersons for their citizens.
The cost of politics (and corruption) is growing year by year. The coming elections in the U.S. will cost over four billion dollars, and until now just 145 donors have paid for more than 50 percent of the of the electoral campaign. According to the London School of Economics, the cost of electoral campaigns in Europe has increased by 47 percent in the last decade. In other words, many consider that we live now in a democracy that is turning into a plutocracy. And Hungary is openly advocating for a autocratic democracy, like Singapore and China, and getting away with it.
The fourth is that multilateralism is in crisis. The US has stopped ratifying any international treaties, from the Right of the Children to the Law of the Sea. The United Nations has been marginalized. The regional organizations, like the African Union, ASEAN or the Organization of American States, are notoriously toothless. And the European Union is going from an existential crisis on the euro (Greece), into a more serious one, the refugees. The United Kingdom is leading a charge for devolution of powers from Brussels that will create a precedent that others will invoke, Hungary and Poland first.
If those considerations are considered valid, then it is not difficult to understand that the European electorates are voting on the basis of political nostalgia and lack of security. In front of an uncertain future, the dream to go back to a better past is strong. Both the Swiss and Polish elections rewarded the party which wanted to defend the national identity against foreigners, especially Muslim, and the national religious traditions against the European values of sexual liberty, gays marriage, free abortion and decaying lifestyles.
The polish case is emblematic. Poland has been one of the greatest recipient of EU aid. East Europe did join the EU to get funds and support, but without any intention to give anything in exchange, as the refusal to accept any immigrant has made clear…
Both the Swiss and Polish elections rewarded the party which wanted to defend the national identity against foreigners, especially Muslim, and defend religion against the European values of sexual liberty, gays marriage, free abortion and decaying lifestyles.
It is worth remembering that until the financial crisis of 2007, xenophobic and rightwing parties were marginal political entities in almost all of Europe. In a short time, they have become important players all over Europe, even in countries known for their civic sense and tolerance, like Netherlands and the Nordic countries.
What bring votes to a xenophobic, right wing and anti-Europe party is the dream to go back to a secure and orderly past. Voters do not want to vote for an uncertain future: they find it more reassuring to vote for a time in which politics where national, there was not a faceless bureaucracy in Brussels dictating how to pack tomatoes, and a supranational currency, the euro, manoeuvred by unelected powerful bankers in Frankfurt, with a hegemonic Germany dictating other countries. It is also worth remembering that a large segment of European citizens has yet to recover the quality of life it had before 2007. and that young people pay a disproportionate cost for a crisis originated by the finance.
The dream of returning to the past is also the reason for the creation in U.S. of the radical wing of the Republican Party, known as the Tea Party, and the victory of Justin Trudeau in Canada. And while the West has a golden recent age on which to dream, in the Global South nationalism, a twin of political nostalgia, is on the rise.
But for the West, there is a problem. There are now 60 million refugees, and in this figure there are not those who escape sex persecutions, like gays in Africa, or woman from Boko Haram in Nigeria. Migrants is a term much more representative of the reality than refugees, which are for Europe those who escape from clearly recognized conflicts. Demography is clear. Africa is going to become one billion people by 2030, and Europe would lose at least 15 million people by then.
The Europe we know — homogenous, white, Christian and tolerant — is going to disappear. But it will not be without a lot of suffering. The U.S. has become a multicultural and multiethnic country in over a century ago. According to the records of the most important entry points, Ellis Island in New York, nine million Irish, Germans, Austrians and Scandinavians entered the country in the steamboat times, with more than eight million Poles, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Hungarians, Russians and Baltics, and more than five million Italians and Greeks. In a few decades, a total of 22.5 million Europeans became Americans. Europe is not ready even to do a tenth of this.
Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.