Dear Partners in thought,
As we approach a rather key electoral point across Europe, this short Interlude is for my fellow Europeans but should matter to all. Like with William Barrett Travis and his “line in the sand” at the Alamo in 1836, I wanted to stress a few key things about the upcoming European elections on 26th May.
I am sure you all have read why the EU matters and is crucial to us more than ever (if not see my Interlude of 3rd May). These EU parliamentary elections have always involved a low participation as voters never related much to the EU and why they should vote. However we live in populist times now and while mainstream European voters are by and large happy about living in their EU member state but at times can’t bother to go to the polling booth, the extremist populist parties across the EU are very mobilised and want to score a big victory that may adversely impact on the way we go about our daily lives. Apathy can be dangerous in our times as it was in the 1930s. So please forget about going fishing this Sunday and go voting.
It is likely that the Brexit Party of shouting Nigel Farage may score the highest result in the UK (even if only 30-35%) at the expense of the two traditional, largely discredited parties and their current leaderships while all the Remain parties from the Lib Dems, to Change UK, to the Greens will score marginally higher than the Brexit Party. I do implore my friends across the Channel to go and vote, especially the young voters, and send a message that leads to a second referendum so we stop this nonsense once and for all. And by the way do not buy David Cameron’s memoirs. Harking back to my French heritage it makes me think of filmmaker Michel Audiard who famously said: “Les cons osent tout, c’est à ca qu’on les reconnait” (loosely and kindly translated: idiots dare everything, it’s how you recognise them). Some people should keep quiet.
As for France and the never happy, always riotous French, it is possible that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) might lead the pack in the evening of the 26th right before the Renaissance group which is the Macron coalition. While it is unlikely that Le Pen’s and similar parties across the EU would hold a majority, they may command enough votes to be disruptive and slow down the efficient works of the EU institutions and thus directly affect the lives of hundreds of millions of Europeans. One reassuring strategic fact, aptly put forward this weekend by my friend Simon Kuper in the FT Weekend, is that “the big decisions are not made by Bruxelles bureaucrats or even the Strasbourg parliament (for which we are voting on Sunday) but by national leaders working together” in what is truly “a Europe of nations”. Having said that it is no reason for not defending our values at all levels and strengthening rather than weakening Europe and its project.
Populists and authoritarians in democratic Europe are good at slogans as shown with self-appointed European nationalist leader Matteo Salvini and his grand nationalist Milano mass of 18th May with “No bureaucrats, bankers, boats” while screaming at the betrayals of the founding fathers (in his case Gasperi and no less than de Gaulle) and surprisingly holding a white rosary and calling “on the Immaculate Virgin to bring us victory” in what can only be a new marketing plan (which for a divorced father of two is interesting). They are good at getting votes – the main, real target of the populist “game” today – while rarely delivering positive change or even any results expected by their own voters (see my Book Note of 15th March on Yascha Mounk’s “People vs. Democracy”) though very apt at restricting freedoms on the way and creating instability at all levels if not chaos when in power. The last and timely populist episode involving the forced resignation of Austria’s Deputy Chancellor and Far-Right FPÖ leader on Russian-flavoured corruption charges taken on tape (maybe a Cannes Festival contender this week?) shows to star Premier Kurz and all of us how smart it is to work with people with no values. On the 26th in France, Britain and in all EU member states it is high time to wake up and send the message that the values that have made our world matter and that charlatanism and illiberalism are not the answer to the problems of our challenging times.
For those who like the movies, think of the 26th in terms of Gary Copper’s Sheriff in “High Noon”. “We” are all him on Sunday.