In May of this year, the various nations comprising the EU held their parliamentary elections. Despite more moderate parties taking the majority of seats, the surge in popularity of far-right, anti-EU candidates in several countries made headlines, being termed as an “earthquake” in European politics.
Denmark’s Danish People’s Party, France’s National Front, and other such parties in Greece, Italy, and Germany all elected far right candidates to the EU Parliament. While these parties did not gain enough votes to affect policy in the EU, they are now presented with a global platform from which to present their views.
Most talented of all far-right politicians, the UK Independence Party’s leader, Nigel Farage, made quite an impact. Whether one agrees with his content or not, Farage is arguably one of the great orators of this century. In his many tirades, Farage never hesitates to denigrate the EU, questioning its legitimacy, intentions, and objecting to Britain’s participation as a whole.
Addressing the President of the European Council some time ago, Farage goes on the attack:
“[President Van Rompuy], you have the charisma of a damp rag, and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk. [The] question that I want to ask . . . That we all want to ask is, ‘who are you?’ I’d never heard of you. Nobody in Europe had ever heard of you. I would like to ask you President: who voted for you?”
To a point, Farage is right. In 2009 and behind closed doors, a few key EU officials decided to quietly elect Belgian politician Herman Van Rompuy to the European Presidency. It seems Van Rompuy was elected for his conciliatory disposition. Few Europeans outside of Belgium knew who Van Rompuy was.
Farage continues to insult Van Rompuy, describing his perceived woes of the Euopean Union:
“I have no doubt that it’s your intention to be the quiet assassin of European democracy, and of the European Nation States. You appear to have a loathing for the very concept of Nation States. Perhaps that’s because you come from Belgium, which is, pretty much, a non country.”
I can’t say if Farage is right about Van Rompuy’s intentions, but if he is so be it. Farage is wrong, however, to believe that a demise in the power and individual identity of the various European member states would be tragedy. On the contrary, a reduction in power and homogenization would be beneficial to both Europe and the world. I’ve compulsively studied European history and nationalism for over 15 years, and in early 2012, wrote on why an emboldened European Union is necessary for world peace. Put simply, without a stronger unity, Europe will not achieve world class status. Furthermore, without a strong unity, its individual Nation States could very well, once again, go to war with each other and drag the world with them.
These individual national identities are problematic in other ways. Many of the struggles Europeans face are the result of their national governments, which are the anachronistic products of historic conquest. We see this best exemplified in the, sometimes violent, separatist movements that exist within Europe’s borders. The Scots, Irish, Welsh, Basques, Northern and Southern Italians, and others, have all, at one point, rejected their assigned “national characters.”
A look to any European nation’s individual history will explain why these separatist movements exist. For instance, take the people of the Southern Italy. Quite often the subject of Northern Italian discrimination, separatists in the South want independence because of how Italy was formed as a nation in the nineteenth century.
Pino Aprile, a Southern Italian journalist, spent 30 years researching his homeland, and released a revised history of Italy titled Terroni, a pejorative term for those of the South. According to Aprile, Italy’s first King, the Northerner Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia, conquered the Peninsula not for any ideological unity, but because his regime was bankrupt and needed money. Aprile claims, prior to the Statehood of Italy, Napoli was the third wealthiest city in Europe, behind only London and Paris. Terroni explains that Northern troops razed the South: stealing its gold, destroying its factories, and placing its people in Europe’s first concentration camps. Aprile even explains that the organized crime syndicates notorious in the South had their origins in the North’s conquest. Aprile’s revision is convincing, and does much to explain why Italy experienced a mass diaspora from the South to the New World after Unification.
Controversial national histories, such as Italy’s, abound in Europe, and do much to explain these separatist sentiments. The European Union would benefit from the closer integration, and reassessment, of its current member states. By breaking down nations such as Great Britain, Spain, Italy, and others into smaller, less-powerful entities, Europe may achieve the stronger government it needs for great prosperity. The European Union certainly has its inefficiencies, but a better choice would be to address those issues individually and embrace the idea of unity, rather than abandon the idea of a united Europe entirely.
Photos top to bottom:
Nigel Farage, photo by David Iliff, Wikimedia Commons
Herman Van Rompuy, Creative Commons