Cas Mudde raises a very important issue in a recent article in Open Democracy (“The European elite’s politics of fear”). Mudde criticises “the EU elite’s long-standing warning against alleged threats from so-called anti-Europeans”. A penetrating discourse is spreading from Brussels warning against the rise of nationalism, anti-Europeanism, populism and aversion towards liberal democracy. All those who oppose current EU policies, regardless of their reasons, are made responsible for it.
The political machinery of fear works 24/7 in the current context of crisis, but this discourse is certainly not new. A few years ago, the French and the Dutch were deemed responsible for the political stagnation of the EU when they dared to vote against the late European Constitution. In February 2005, 42% of Spaniards turned to vote in the referendum on the European Constitution; nearly 77% of them voted in favour. Three months later, in France about 55% people voted against the very same text, with a turnout that rose up to 70% (source: Wikipedia). The single mindset at the time was that while the Spaniards had perfectly understood the importance of such a treaty, the French were just too obfuscated by their internal political problems. I was living in my hometown back then, around 20 km away from the border between both countries. I watched a few political debates on the Spanish and the French televisions. Put it simply, the intensity and depth of the debates at one side and the other were just miles apart. While the publicised opinion in Spanish media was monolithically in favour of the treaty, my impression was that in France both options were on the table with little or no prejudice. I wouldn´t dare to say that the French non deserves more legitimacy than the Spanish sí, but certainly the opposite can´t be the case either.
Not all criticism of EU policies is tantamount to anti-Europeanism. To imply the opposite is just oversimplifying. We need to challenge the single mindset of what Cass Mudde calls “enlightened Europeanism”. As an adaptation of the enlightened despotism of the 18th century, as Mudde points out, the meaning of the enlightened Europeanism can be clearly identified in the words of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former head of the Eurogroup: “Of course politicians should respect the will of the people as much as possible, provided they adhere to the European treaties. (…) (Governments) have to pursue the right policies, even if many voters think they are the wrong ones”. In other words, people are free to make their own democratic choices, as long as they are the same as mine.
It is important to acknowledge that some powerful political forces in several European countries are openly populist, racist, xenophobic and also Euro-sceptic. They must be fought with the strength of innovative projects and a true belief in democracy and human rights. In my view, imposing policies regardless of their negative impact on people, especially the most vulnerable groups, is just the wrong way. And making this point is not equivalent to being anti-European. Rather the opposite, I think it is the way to save the EU from falling down the cliff.