Although the parties of the European Alliance for Freedom do not necessarily have a lot in common in their national manifests, they are teaming up for the European Parliament elections. The PDU takes a close look. By Manuela Osiander
On December, the 11th, Marie Le Pen, leader of the Front National in France and Franz Obermayr from the Austrian Party Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs met in Strasbourg during the plenary week of the European Parliament. By holding a speech in front of the representatives and answering questions of reporters, the two wanted to promote their election program for the upcoming European Parliament election in May 2014. For the next term, they want their “European Alliance for Freedom” to have more influence on the decision-making process in the EU and therefore to represent the interests of a growing number of eurosceptical people better.
It is a phenomenon that reappeared around the beginning of the economic and financial crisis in Europe: Parties from the left and right wing gained a lot of support and votes from people who blamed the governing centre parties for the miserable circumstances they found themselves in. Building on this newly strengthened anti-EU feeling that seems to cover large parts of Europe, critics about the Union were communicated more visible and eurosceptical parties had to be taken serious by other parties.
Le Pen and Obermayr now try to gain as many votes as possible in May 2014 and their chances are not too bad: Their parties have gained strong support on the national level and especially Le Pen was a serious opponent in the presidential elections in France in 2012. 18 % of the votes went to the FN. Now she even believes in the possibility to gain the majority in the next national elections as she stated during the press conference on Wednesday in Strasbourg. This results from the topicality of the topics they represent. Even though the national programs of the parties of the EAF are quite different from each other, their aims regarding Europe are the same.
Four major topics form their program are: Keeping national sovereignty while decreasing the federalisation of the Union, reforming the European immigration policy, strengthening the democratic rights of EU citizens and the renunciation of the current currency policy.
Regarding institutional aspects, protecting national sovereignty as well as the ending of the principle of subsidiarity are seen as necessary. This view is caused by a lack of transparency in EU decision-making. As Le Pen pointed out, a lot of decisions are made behind closed doors in order to avoid confrontation with the citizens. The path towards a federal union – similar to the idea of the United States of Europe – is the one the EU takes without asking the citizens about their opinion, or so she argues. The EU allegedly betrays its citizens and the EAF wants to change that.
This aspect of EU vs. citizens can be found throughout the EAF´s manifest, which clarifies the expectations that the EAF is able to gain a lot of votes in the next elections. They see themselves as the only representatives of people who want the EU to opt for a different path than the one it is on at the moment. They openly criticise policies and state that their major task will be the representation of the needs and wishes of the people.
What that means was pointed out by Le Pen as well: If the people utter the wish to leave the European Union – for example the French – then the task of politicians should be to do so. One way to find out about the opinion of the people and to strengthen the democratic aspect of the Union is to hold more referenda and votes on public topics. Her expectation is that therefore the critical opinions about the EU will be heard more clearly, the politicians are forced to reform the union and in the extreme case, some member states will leave the Union.
The opposite, the inclusion of new or potential member states should be reorganized as well. The European Accession Policy should be regulated in a decentralized way which means that the criteria for accession have to be approved by the citizens of the member states and not “in Brussels behind closed doors.” More decentralization is wanted by the EAF regarding social aspects and immigration policy. Asylum policy, immigration policy as well as social and labor policy should no longer be directed or coordinated by the EU.
Listening to Le Pen and Obermayr makes one thinking that some of their points are not particularly “wrong.” A lot is decided in the EU without seeing the link to the influence of the people on the decision. Nobody really asked if the people want a more centralized Union with less competences left for the member states.
But: Does that justify the ideas of the EAF? Are they right by saying their ideas neither represent left-wing nor right-wing ideas, but right instead of wrong ideas? Is an alliance such as the EAF necessary to make the EU more democratic? What to think about a party that openly regards the end of the union or exit of member states as possible without saying a single word about the consequences?
Criticizing the Union has been done before and according to these criticism the treaties have been modified. The aspect of including the people better in the decision-making process was one point that changed with the Treaty of Lisbon. It is easier to hold a referendum, to propose a legislature and their representation, the European Parliament, gained influence as well.
Other points of their manifest are not new and not exclusive to their alliance. For years European parties demanded a change of the financial policy regarding the Euro or a different way of deciding which competences should be given to the EU level or stay at the national level.
The parties that form the EAF do not necessarily have a lot in common in their national manifests. Nevertheless, their success and influence on national policy – the example of Geert Wilders (PVV) during the last legislation period in the Netherlands fits here – made them want to represent their voters at EU level as well.
Asking if the EAF has the potential to become a threat to the EU might be exaggerated. Regarding the fact that despite the rising support of eurosceptical parties most of the EU governments are clearly formed by centre and europe-friendly parties, a majority of votes can be expected to go to these parties in the May elections as well.
Image “Meeting 1er Mai 2012 Front National” courtesy to Blandine LC via flickr.com, released under creative commons 2.0 share alike.