Elections to the European Parliament have always been perceived as a formality of little interest, but this year they have become a landmark political event. The reason is clear. The EU is entering a period of fundamental changes in the socio-political landscape. The previous model of integration, if not completely exhausted, requires deep adjustments, adaptation to other external conditions. No one has a plan of transformation, but the realization that the old will not go anymore, in one way or another is present on all flanks. The battle unfolded for who will determine the nature and scale of the changes. The traditional establishment advocating renewal within the status quo, or new forces insisting on the renegotiation of the “social contract” on a European scale. It is noteworthy that the idea of abandoning the EU in General, the exit of the member States, which sounded two or three years ago in the rhetoric of nationalist movements, has now almost disappeared. Macabre farce Brexit showed everyone the price of even trying to leave the Union. So that those who during previous campaigns talked about happiness outside of the European Union (Marine Le Pen, for example), now raised to shield his reform in the spirit of the emblem of de Gaulle’s “Europe of Fatherlands”. That is, with the return of part of the sovereign rights back to the national level and the depoliticization of the Union.
The dispute about the old World
This is a matter of principle, and it is not surprising that the struggle is acute, almost without rules. Its bright manifestation was the grandiose scandal in Austria, where the leaders of the Freedom Party, which was part of the government coalition, fell into a cleverly placed trap. Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian stache and the head of the faction in Parliament Johann Gudenus on the set made by a hidden camera, enthusiastically talk about the services they are willing to provide allegedly Russian magnate in exchange for financial support of the election campaign. In Austria, in General, no one doubts that the meeting with the “niece of the oligarch” was a staged dramatization, but the authenticity of the statements of the defendants do not deny, and this put an end to their career and caused the collapse of the government.
The purpose of the exposure a week before the elections is quite obvious, and its target is not specific to Austrian politicians. Far-sighted organizers of the scandal very accurately identified the weakest link in the chain of European national populist parties. Strache associates — narrow-minded and very parochial policies that reflect the worldview of a specific social stratum: the remaining working class and the petty bourgeoisie, those who are opposed to globalization and newfangled trends. This is the strength of the Freedom Party in the national political arena, but also its helplessness in a game of a different caliber. And the French “National Association” (former “front”) Le Pen, and the Italian “League” Matteo Salvini, and even the exotic Brexit Nigel Farage in the UK — much more sophisticated and ideologically savvy political movements, to catch their leaders on outright stupidity harder. But swallowed the bait Austrians now cast a shadow on all like-minded people, and the European mainstream immediately threw all his forces to the scandal with the penalty as discredited and all the others.
Now, of course, it will be interesting to know how much the attack will undermine the position of the nationalists. The experience of the US, where the national populist Donald Trump has been under the hurricane fire of most media and the left-liberal elite for three years, shows that his supporters simply ignore the pouring flows. They do not believe what comes from the long-ruling political aristocracy. It will be interesting how the phenomenon is applicable to Europe, it will soon become clear — and the results of the voting in the European Parliament, and in early elections in Austria in the fall.
Whatever it was, in Europe there is a very acute political struggle, and it is not based on the clash of ambitions of individuals and groups of interests, and the dispute about the principles of the Old World. And it only flares up, promising an increasing glow in the coming years.
What will follow the success of nationalists
The scandal in Austria was not without a “Russian trace”, although here it is clearly intertwined just for colorfulness and persuasiveness. Russian oligarchs/hackers/trolls/killers, etc. (underline) have become a brand name that is used for any reason. In addition, there is a strong opinion that Russia purposefully supports populist forces in Europe, hoping thereby to undermine the European sanctions unity, to deploy EU policy, to promote their influence with their help and achieve other insidious goals.
Let us put on the conscience of the authors of conspiracy theories of the imagination of Almighty Russia, which launched its tentacles into the European political systems. Indeed, the fact is that the majority of national populists in the EU countries have a positive attitude towards Russia, seeing President Putin as a staunch supporter of such a concept as “national interest”. Namely, this concept is the key to the ideology of opponents of European federalization. Hence the rejection of sanctions as disadvantageous to their economies. And this, of course, causes a favorable response in Moscow. The successes of eurosceptics at the national or European level constantly give rise to discussions about whether the atmosphere in Europe will change for the better as these forces grow, whether this creates new opportunities for Russia. The answer is probably no.
First of all, even the electoral achievements of the nationalists do not mean that they will be strengthened enough to pursue their course (which, we note, in a coherent and formulated form does not yet exist). The result of the current changes is the fragmentation of the mainstream and the fragmentation of the political field, and the successes of the national conservative forces are very catalyzing this process. In practice, this does not mean a change in the political line, but rather its disappearance. Forming coalitions becomes a very painful process, and when it succeeds, the structure comes out fragile. Expanding the presence of nationalists objectively leads to the fact that respectable parties are forced to consider options for joining forces with them. But ideologically, this is still a taboo, and exceptions such as the Austrian incident (the government moved even more to the right of the conservatives and the extreme right), cause, as we see, not just condemnation, but also active opposition. The scandal in Austria is served in a very instructive way — that’s what happens when the demon will confuse people from a decent society to contact obscene partners…
Russia as a means of settling accounts
All these processes are painful, nervous and long. In the coming years, the EU will be increasingly immersed in its own problems, which are linked in a tight tangle — ideology, identity, political structure, economic prospects, the ratio of national and supranational, understanding how external factors affect internal processes, etc. During this period, the European Union, in fact, loses the ability to engage in meaningful dialogue with external partners, there is only the possibility of maintaining the existing level if it suits. With Russia, the current level is clearly not in anyone’s interests, but in the current and upcoming situation, there is no chance of improvement.
Moreover, attempts to do something are simply counterproductive. The Austrian scandal shows that Europe has moved the American way. In the United States, the Russian theme was instrumentalized for the purpose of domestic political struggle in 2016, and since then it has become impossible to discuss anything seriously. Now, this is happening in Europe. Russia is not even a Scarecrow and a means of settling scores and arguments. And attempts from Moscow to influence it somehow, especially suddenly to use, are obviously doomed to the fiasco. Because, as in the American story, any Russian manifestation — positive, negative, neutral, no — somehow embedded as lyko in the line for the same internal intrigues.
Farcical history, involuntary participant of which was this week the international discussion club “Valdai”, clearly showed what is happening in Europe and how unreliable even seemingly solid structures. The Valdai club intended to hold its regular European conference with the Austrian National Defense Academy, which three months ago kindly agreed to host and facilitate the event. Everything was ready, and three hours before the start of the official program, when all the participants from Russia and other European countries arrived in Vienna, the Austrian military leaders informally conveyed that they refused to participate in the conference. Without explanations, official notifications and, of course, apologies — only at the level of private messages through technical workers in the spirit of “well you understand”.
Valdai mobilized and held the event on his own, without Austrian counterparts. And you could just laugh at the cowardice and rudeness (often combined qualities) of Austrian generals and officials of the Ministry of defense, who behaved like ostriches, alarmed because of the political scandal. But, unfortunately, this is in miniature just the model of behavior towards Russia, which can be assumed in the coming vague years for the European Union.