German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the far-right and populist advances in European Parliament elections this week “remarkable and regrettable.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the dramatic victory of Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-euro National Front over the Socialists a political “earthquake.”
A triumphant Le Pen, meanwhile, declared that “the people have spoken loud and clear, they no longer want to be led by EU commissioners and technocrats who are unelected and who live outside their borders.”
Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, which advocates immediate withdrawal from the EU, and which came in first in the vote in Britain, put it best when he said that if European integration once seemed inevitable, after the EU Parliament elections, that is no longer the case.
The results are worrying for those who hoped that in the wake of World War II, Europeans were gradually moving away from nationalist, ethno-centric political identities toward a more liberal, universalistic political arrangement.
Inevitably, Europe’s Jews are likely to be worse off as a result. They will either be collateral victims of the European Right’s fight against immigrants – particularly Muslims, or, regardless of their personal opinions on Israeli policies, they will be singled out for attack by anti-Zionists.
It would, of course, be wrong to exaggerate the impact of this week’s votes. Key European Parliament members who have worked hard to improve and extend the EU-Israel relationship have been reelected. And even though pro-EU mainstream parties have been weakened, they still hold a two-thirds majority in the European Parliament.
In Italy, the Democratic Party has been reenergized, garnering about 40 percent of the vote under the reformist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. And even though anti-EU parties have greatly raised their representation in several countries, they did badly in the Netherlands and disappointed in Finland.
Still, there is a worrying trend. Le Pen’s victory means that the political leadership in France will have a more difficult time supporting Germany in the next leg of integration of the 28-nation bloc, which economists say is vital.
The Danish People’s Party won with 27% of the vote, doubling its number of parliament members, from two to four. The party’s founder, Pia Kjaersgaard, responding recently to Swedish critics of her anti-immigration party, said, “If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmo into a Scandinavian Beirut with clan wars, honor killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Oresund Bridge [that connects the two countries].”
A number of neo-Nazi parties are now represented in the European Parliament. In Germany, the National Democratic Party, running on a platform that called for an “all-white Europe,” managed to gain a seat for the first time after an electionoral reform lowered the threshold to 1%. Golden Dawn, whose main spokesman has a swastika tattoo, is now the third-most popular party in Greece and represented in the EU parliament, also for the first time. Hungary’s Jobbik party, meanwhile, maintained its strength.
There were also gains for far-left parties that oppose the EU because of its economic policies. In Greece, the Syriza party came in first place.
It is too early to tell whether these changes to the makeup of the European Parliament will affect diplomatic, commercial and R&D ties with Israel. It is also unclear whether there will be renewed attacks on European Jewry’s religious practices – particularly ritual slaughter and circumcision.
It is clear, however, that due to the economic crisis in the EU and the tensions over immigration, Europe is no longer the hospitable place for Jews that it was in 1990s.
Two decades ago it still seemed that Europe was on the verge of achieving a borderless, liberal union that could rise above nationalist bigotry and political extremism, a place where Jews could thrive.
After this week’s elections, the inevitability of European integration is looking implausible. And this is bad for the Jews.