The free world has a surprising new enemy: Western Europe—or rather, the populist parties which rose to prominence there in the wake of the financial crisis and which are making another big push ahead of the European elections in May. The ideologies of these parties vary radically, but as Reuters reports, they amount to a sizable threat to legislative items that once commanded a broad consensus, such as free-trade agreements with the United States:
“We are grappling with people who are anti-European, who are anti-American, who are anti-free trade, who are anti-globalisation and who are anti-multinational corporations,” Finland’s minister for Europe and trade, Alexander Stubb, told his EU counterparts and business leaders at a meeting in Athens. “We have an uphill battle to make the argument that this EU-U.S. free-trade agreement is a good one.” (Reuters)
The European Parliament is already an enormous jumble of political persuasions and strange bedfellows. But it could become even more cacophonous after the elections in May if populist parties win more seats and more extreme parties are added to the mix, as appears likely.A ruling handed down by Germany’s highest court just this week, for instance, makes it possible for parties garnering less than 1% of the total vote to send a representative to the EP. Accordingly, not just the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) will have a presence in Brussels, but potentially also Germany’s all-but-in-name neo-Nazi NPD, which has already entered talks with other European right-wingers seeking to overhaul the Establishment’s agenda.The imperiled trade talks with the U.S. are therefore only a symptom—albeit a consequential one—of a larger problem facing Europe: after the economic crisis, a political crisis may be germinating, with unpredictable repercussions for the EU as a whole.