Steve Bannon goes Europe – PR advice for far-right populists

Divide and rule has been a motto of politicians for millennia. Lastly, Donald Trump came, saw and divided American society, and finally took victory in the Presidential elections. Along his way, he was helped by Steve Bannon – far-right activist, PR counsel and journalist, and until recently adviser to the President in the White House. Now, Bannon has announced to widen his field of activity and give advice to the European far-right for the upcoming elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. He has announced to found “The Movement” – half think-tank half campaigning machine headquartered in Brussels, the heart of European politics. Where the money for all this shall come from remains, however, unclear. By Dr Alois Maderspacher, Munich

Talks between Bannon and Europe’s far-right populists have already taken place beforehand, for instance with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the French Rassamblement National (previously known as Front National). Bannon followed Marine Le Pen’s invitation this March and told her party congress “history is on our side.” He also entertains contact with Italy’s League party and the country’s interior minister. For “Italy is the beating heart of modern politics” Mr Bannon is quoted.

One might argue: So what? The Social Democrats and the European People’s Party still lead the polls. Yet even put together they do not reach 50 percent any longer, which means that their habituary cooperation in Parliament can no longer be continued without a third partner.

What is indeed worrying about Bannon are three things: first his ideas about Europe, his desire to unite Europe’s far-right populist movements and his zeal to utilise power to destroy rather than build.

European Nation States or United States of Europe?
Bannon’s vision of Europe is backward not progressive. He envisions the re-emergence of strong nation states rather a strong European Union. Disunity not unity seems to be his creed. “You’re going to have individual nation states with their own identities, their own borders,” he told The Daily Beast. However, it is the founding myth of united Europe to overcome nationalism not to foster and promote it. Security, unity, and a common future was what Europe’s founding fathers had in mind after nationalism led the continent into two devastating wars within the lifetime of one generation. European far-right populists – now supported by Bannon – are about to threaten this. Above all their stark nationalist vision is absolutely contradictory to Europe’s “four freedoms” of goods, capital, services, and persons.

Heightening the clout of Europe’s nationalists
Cross-national unity of nationalists promoting separation rather than unity seems to be a contradiction in terms. However, looking back in history we detect that the Nazis looked for inspiration across the alps in Italy. Hitler later helped Franco’s fascists to power by supporting them in the Spanish civil war. During the Second World War he supported fascist Italy – his ally – and promoted fascist puppet regimes across German-conquered Europe. Nationalism and a nationalist inter-national does not exclude itself. As we can see today in the emergence of the identitarian movement across the European continent. Furthermore, with the Euro and refugee crises the right and extreme right is currently on the rise. Thus Bannon’s efforts to form a right-wing “supergroup” within the European Parliament are likely to fall on fruitful soil and could promote far-right populism even further.

Bannon makes no bones about his goal: He told The Daily Beast “I’m about winning. I’m about power. I want to win and then I want to effectuate change.” His aim is to form a supergroup large enough to disturb the Parliamentary processes. What’s more, he is rather cynical about it, as he claims European support for his and the far-right’s views can be bought on the cheap. He almost cannot believe that the Brexit campaign cost only £7 m. On the other hand, Europe might be Bannon’s last straw after all he was kicket out of the White House and sacked from Breitbart, a complete failure in America.

His will for power rather than unity, hidden financiers, experience in PR, and the ongoing swing of European electorates to the right is a potentially poisonous cocktail for the campaign parties in May 2019. Bannon might prove the party pooper for both the European social democrats and the more moderate political right. What is needed now are efforts to unify Europe’s democratic majority and a truly pan-European election campaign. Last time round, a first step was made when left and right agreed on a spitzenkandidat respectively. Now it is time to move further, it is needful campaigns become cross-national. Candidates from other countries should make appearances on the stages of their European sister parties rather than campaigning in their home countries only. When the far right can unite, why not the democratic majority? Do we really want populism to drag the European dream into the mud after it has already trodden on the American one?

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