I have a confession: After hearing of the Brussels attacks this morning, riding my bike past parliament to the The Hague Central and seeing a dozen Royal Marrechaussee armed with automatic weapons, and hearing that Hoofddorp station near Amsterdam had been shut due to an ‘incident’, I got on to a train. A young Middle Eastern man sat next to me, speaking in Arabic on the phone. He was wearing a thick coat, and had a big square bag between his legs. And for a moment I felt a flash of fear. I thought about the possibility of a bomb being in the bag, and images of Brussels ran through my mind. The moment passed very quickly, and I felt stupid and guilty, not believing that I really had been worried for a minute. But I did feel fear, for a brief moment. Continue reading
After more than a year of promises, David Cameron has finally set a date for a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. After managing to make a deal with the 27 other states, Cameron will campaign for the UK to vote to stay on the 23rd of June. But what exactly does his ‘deal’ with the EU mean? What would happen if the British left? And is this the only threat to the EU? Continue reading
There’s an ugly current running through Western politics, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we know what it is. Just like in Weimar Germany, from France to the US, there are people struggling with an identity crisis, scared of threats from without and within, and worrying they’re being left behind in the modern economy. And for these people, champions are rising. They are strong leaders. They say all the things, the necessary things, no one else dares to say. They will get things moving, protect the ordinary people, restore order, restore greatness, do what needs to be done. They are people like Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen. They are fascists.
There’s no clear-cut definition of fascism, and there’s no simple equivalent for Hitler or Mussolini today. However, academic Christian Caryl offers some criteria, so let’s see how Trump especially, but also the others, fit:
- Racial purity: Wilders and Le Pen focus more on religion then race, but all of them share an obsession with an ‘other’ contaminating society and taking it over, be it “Mexican rapists and criminals”, “criminal Moroccan” or simply “Muslims”, and they will stop all immigration to get rid of this other.
- “The state reigns supreme”: Seeing as none of them are in power, this is hard to judge, but they are certainly all extremely focused on law and order and ‘the nation’.
- The strongman: All three, especially Trump, play on this idea of needing a strong leader, and it’s something their supporters look for.
- Focus on the military: This is something Trump has mentioned a lot – and which is slightly less relevant in Europe – the need for a strong military and foreign policy.
- Hatred of ‘rationalism’ and ‘decadence’: Trump almost glories in being an anti-intellectual, barely bothering to make rational arguments. All of them have attacked the current government and system for weakness, softness and elitism.
- The Third Way: None of them are left or right, but just like the Nazi party, bring in elements of both – the rightist emphasis on law and order and the nation together with the leftist opposition to globalisation and financial elites (ironically in Trump’s case).
Now you can argue that people like Wilders and Trump are just populists, swaying from issue to issue, and that they’ll never be elected anyway. And that is certainly true, they are extremely populist. But these fascist positions are the ones on which they are running, and the ones that are making them some of the most popular politicians in the country. That can’t be ignored.
These people don’t only pose a direct threat to democracy if they are elected. Their very rhetoric poisons the atmosphere; it tells people that it is alright to voice their darkest fears and their basest hatreds. Their policies are not just free speech in a marketplace of ideas, where the good ones will win out, they are beginning to contaminate the others and sway the centre of debate. What was once extreme, now becomes acceptable.
The media plays a role in this too. Just this morning I heard an interview with Trump on ABC, where the interviewer asked “Do you regret your ban on Muslims entering the country, a policy which many have labelled un-American?” How can you ask such a question with a straight face? It’s like asking Hitler “Do you regret barring the Jews from public life, a policy which many see as anti-Semitic?’ Of course his plan is un-American, of course it’s un-democratic, and of course it’s fascist. Why isn’t that being said?
This may seem overblown, and you can argue that they will never be elected, or that their star will fade away. Fair enough, that’s hopefully and probably true. But the last time large proportions of Europe were swayed by fascism, it led to the worst conflict the world has ever seen, and the worst crime the world has ever seen – the systematic extermination of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and many others. There are some threats that are very unlikely, but the consequences of which are so dire that they have to be faced no matter how remote they may be. Fascist rhetoric is one of those threats.
Last week Hilary Benn, in one of the best speeches I’ve seen in recent times, declared that Islamic State is fascist, and “fascists must be fought”. This is true – but sometimes the fascists are on the inside.
Over the last weeks and months almost every day has brought a new headline. Hundreds drown in the Mediterranean, 70 suffocate to death inside a truck, Thousands stranded at Budapest train station. The media and the continent have woken up to the fact that Europe faces its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, with thousands of people a day trying to claim asylum. This shouldn’t be a cause for panic though. Instead, European leaders need to take a look at the opportunities this crisis offers, and what can be achieved by accepting the refugees heading towards the EU. Continue reading
After a truly marathon negotiating session, a deal has finally been reached between the Eurozone leaders and Greece. The deal includes:
– More austerity, mainly in the form of tax rises and pension reform
– The repeal of Syriza’s anti-austerity laws
– Freeing up some of Greece’s ‘closed professions’
– Privatisation of state assets (like the ports and electricity grid)
– These assets will be transferred to a 50 billion euro fund managed by Greece but supervised by the creditors. The funds will be used to support the banks and Greece itself Continue reading
On Sunday Greece will vote in one of the most unusual referendums to be held in Europe in a long time. With only a week’s notice the country has been asked to vote on an extremely vague question, which in essence boils down to whether or not to accept an offer by the Eurogroup (Greece’s creditors) for a new series of bailouts and reforms. The only problem is that the Eurogroup has made clear that this offer is off the table, making the actual question essentially meaningless. Continue reading
The news has just broken that the European Central Bank will agree later today to end emergency assistance to Greek banks. This, together with yesterday’s news that the EU will not extend the bailout until Greece can hold a referendum on further austerity, means that it looks very likely that Greece is about to crash out of the Euro. Let’s quickly catch up on how the negotiations fell apart, before looking at what the events of today mean, and what could follow.
The situation is still changing fast, and on the evening of the 28th of June the ECB had indeed decided to end additional assistance to Greek banks, and capital controls have been imposed. The description below of what could happen is still relevant., but actual actions taken by the ECB and government may change.