Europe's trouble with its right and left
Elections in the European Union for member states to elect national representatives to the European Parliament are taking place this week. The new legislators will have a say on the direction of the union.

This direction was determined five years ago in Lisbon when the European Union's heads of state and governments signed a treaty that defined the guiding principles of the union. These principles were expected to set the tone of Europe's future with their competitive, progressive, liberal and green principles, to which even the conservatives gave substantial support.

But this time, mixed messages are expected to emerge out of national constituents to influence their own governments. The main method of doing this is by supporting populist movements on both the left and the right. This trend may upset many of the established values and political trends in Europe because these movements are radical and prone to violence. In short, European stability is at stake.

The real winners in this week's election may be the anti-European left populists and a racist calling for the dissolution of Europe as it is -- ethnically and religiously heterogeneous. The 2008 global financial crisis was the beginning point of losing faith in liberal Europe. This trend became more evident during the continuing debt crisis that followed. Bailout conditions and austerity measures imposed on many member countries alienated many Europeans after long and comfortable years of supportive public policies and undisciplined spending.

The obvious ascent of the far right and left in Europe is quite problematic because what they advocate is anti-European. They oppose immigration and the invasiveness of European legislation, which they see as undermining their job and cultural security as well as their national sovereignty.

These arguments go far among social cohorts that are at the lower segments of the work-force. Competition for low-skilled work with migrants and growing economic diversity, coupled with financial crises, have severely damaged the sense of security of many Europeans. This feeling has been further exacerbated with free movement of workers across the EU, creating a fertile ground for populists that are resistant to change and diversity.

We can see this trend all over Europe: Martine Le Pen's National Front in France, Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party, Geert Wilders' PVV in the Netherlands and Heinz-Christian Strache's Freedom Party in Austria are gaining formidable ground among the "common people." The story is the same in Italy, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. The far right has been successful in fomenting hate for immigrants and Muslims using an al-Qaeda type of terrorism to win political support.

Their appeal does not only rely on fear of the foreign, they use a catch-all socially liberal language by which they defend women's, gay and labor rights by attacking bankers and the rich.

The left is also active and equally anti-European. They advocate a harsher anti-market stance. They vehemently attack austerity measures. In Germany, "Die Linke" has become the main opposition to the coalition government forged by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Anti-European hardcore leftists expect good results in the coming elections in Spain, France and the Czech Republic. Alex Tsipras' leftist party, Syriza, in Greece has to be included in this lot as well. He is talking about "a war between people and capitalism" and politically faring well.

So what can we expect of the European election results? Two things, really: 1. The almost certain success of the anti-European parties, which could win as many as a third of the European Parliament's seats. 2. For Europe's political elite's revived zest to enliven European values, which will promote reform to build a more human-oriented economic policy that will strengthen the middle-class. This will require a grand-coalition whose success may subdue growing populist protests across the old continent.

DOĞU ERGİL (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2014-05-28 09:00:02
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