Poland, with a population of 40 million or 8% of the EU is not the land locked and Russia loving Hungary that Brussels may easily pretend doesn’t exist. The October electoral triumph of the Eurosceptic, if not anti-EU, Law and Justice party (PiS) under the extreme right wing politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a rampant populist, decisively darkens Europe’s political horizons. Brussels, Berlin and Paris will not be able from now on to act as if the EU is a solid union, especially now that Britain may quit the club in 2017. If you add to that the still probable Grexit or the Czech Republic’s and Slovakia’s straying direction, things have turned sour for the European Union.
The migration issue has undoubtedly tested the cohesiveness of the EU. It has strengthened the position of the populist, xenophobic and nationalistic political forces. However, the rhetoric of all those Eurosceptic groups found surprisingly fertile grounds in the electorates all around Europe. Such extreme political language couldn’t have been convincing in the 1990s, despite the fact that the central and east European countries having then just got rid of their communist oppressors, were impoverished and leaning towards political brinkmanship. Neither the presently outspreading Euroscepticism would have flourished in the first years of the new Millennium, with the economy growing steadily and the majority of working people confident about the future.
It’s not only immigration
During the past five to six years though, after the 2008-2010 financial crisis, unemployment started rising and on top of that a growing number of people in employment found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Eurostat, the EU statistical service revealed that the real percentage of unemployment was almost the double than the official rates. This newspaper on January 21, 2014 produced a revealing article about that.
It’s clear now for a large part of the voters that the future holds more unequal distribution of income to the detriment of the average man in the street. It is also true that the middle classes in many EU countries are watching their children grow old being unemployed or taking up ‘mini jobs’, that cannot support the standard of living the family used to have. Even those in full time employment feel insecure about their future. This is also clearly depicted in statistics, with the income inequality growing faster than ever.
An insecure future
The result is that for a growing part of the population the European ideals cannot placate them in their everyday problems. Even worse, many people tend to perceive the EU as the cause of the mounting concentration of wealth and political power in progressively fewer hands, thus undermining the position of not only the working but of the middle classes too. The giant multinationals become bigger every day using the merger and acquisition techniques and openly avoiding taxation, while the quality of the jobs they offer is in most cases deplorable. Day after day fewer and fewer jobs are of the good old kind, secure and well paid.
Regrettably, it’s not only in the ex communist countries of central and eastern Europe where Euroscepticism and anti-EU feelings are growing. France, Italy and all the other south EU member states are increasingly suffering from economic and political pessimism. Terrorism, immigration and the growing pressures on the civil freedoms – security and privacy from government measures meant to counter the modern asymmetrical threats – make things worse. These realities empower the political parties on both edges of the spectrum.
Drifting to the edges
The latest election in Portugal brought to power a governing alliance similar to the Greek SYRIZA of Alexis Tsipras. For similar reasons, the last election in Spain has left the country without a viable governing scheme. In this last case though, the tragic consequences of the confrontation between left and right in the civil war and the Franco dictatorship that followed it, have prevented the extreme right or left from getting stronger.
What is now happening in Poland is actually leading the country to an internal conflict between the extreme right of Kaczynski and the other political parties. His hideous acts of appointing the five new members of the Constitutional Court, and legislating the subjection of state media directly under his PiS party influence, were unthinkable to an EU country some years ago. Inconveniently, Kaczynski’s perversion cannot be stopped by Brussels or Berlin. Brussels seems pitiful having swallowed Kaczynski’s Constitutional Court coup in October, and now just looks on pathetically as journalists resign. As for Germany, the more Berlin acts against Kaczynski, the more his position is strengthened in the eyes of a large part of the Polish voters. Nobody in Poland has forgotten the German atrocities in WWII.
Blaming Brussels and Berlin
Again, some years ago nobody would have dared reprimand modern Germany so brutally and directly with shocking parallels and references to what the Nazis did in WW II. In many EU countries though, this behavior against Germany has lately reached disturbing limits. This is again a sign of the times we live in. It’s indicative of the reasons why many Europeans seem to want to take refuge in nationalism and xenophobia, fearing that a strengthened EU may bring them back to an autocratic Germanic Europe. Together with it comes the fear of undemocratic concentration of political power and wealth.
Unfortunately, what is happening today in Poland is not an accident. We live in the aftermath of a devastating economic crisis, an alarming concentration of wealth and a wave of terror unseen before. And it is rather impossible to reverse all that.