Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Post-European Council: Statements
Good politics, particularly in these very tumultuous times in Europe, is about seeing the connections between things. Bad politics is about isolating issues and imagining they can be resolved in isolation. Bad politics is not understanding the connection between what is happening in Hungary, France and the debacle in Tory Britain, the issues that affect this island in terms of Brexit and the wider political landscape. All of us, the European Union and certainly the crisis-ridden Tory party, are often guilty of that politics and not seeing the connections between these things.
In terms of the immediate issues affecting this island, I do not believe any sane or sensible person could see any value whatsoever in putting up borders, certainly on this island, but borders, obstacles, checks or anything that will interfere with the movement of people, goods and services between this island and Britain and Britain and Europe. However, the Tory right are not sane and sensible people. They are driven by a fairly rotten, right-wing, parochial, nostalgic for an imperial past nonsensical outlook, so we cannot take much hope from them.
Beyond that sane and rational understanding or recognition, we believe borders are not good for any of us. That is where I am trying to promote what I call good politics. Those of us who are socialists do not see the value in having borders. We see internationalism as the prerequisite for sorting out the problems Europe faces.
The situation in Hungary really allows us to fully understand what we are facing. We have the Orbán Government which, as has been said, is affiliated to the European People's Party – Fine Gael's party – and doing terrifying things. This week people from his government dragged four MPs out of a television station – the national broadcaster – one of whom was hospitalised. This happened while thousands of people were on the streets protesting. They included representatives of civil society, trade unions, left-wing organisations and so on. They were protesting about the incredible attempt to make people work 400 hours of compulsory overtime and not be paid for three years for doing so. Meanwhile, a Minister in the Orbán Government was on television talking about pigeons. Such is the level of censorship the national broadcaster will not talk about the issue that has people on the streets, but it insists on talking about pigeons. All of this was taking place while MPs were occupying the offices of the State broadcaster. Violence was used to take them out and also against the protesters.
One of the ironies is that the measures being imposed by the Orbán Government are causing labour shortages. They echo things that are happening here. Labour shortages are developing in Hungary precisely because of the Orbán Government's anti-immigrant policies. Organisations in Hungary need people just as the whole of Europe needs more of them. Instead, the Orbán Government is concocting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. We even saw some people promote these ideas outside Leinster House last week. They were blaming George Soros. Believe me, I have no time for vulture capitalists like George Soros, but the idea that he is orchestrating some grand conspiracy across Europe is absolutely preposterous.
The point is that this stuff is taking hold. Mr. Orbán is in power promoting dangerous anti-Semitic extreme right proto-fascist politics and Europe is tolerating it. Fine Gael's political party in Europe is tolerating it. The question we have to ask is why is Fine Gael tolerating it. Is there any recognition that the mad right-wing politics of the Tories, the mad extreme right politics of Mr. Orbán and the rise of the far right in Europe may have something to do with the political failures of the European Union and the economic policies it has imposed? I emphasise that it is not only the European Union. The Tories did most of the damage in Britain through their policies without the help of the European Union. The same neoliberal economic policies, whether imposed by the Tories or the European Union, are creating the seedbed or ground for the far right to rise all over Europe. They are causing people to go onto the streets in France over regressive taxes on fuel, while public services are being cut. They are causing extreme attacks on workers in Hungary and the housing and health crisis in this country. They are causing the destruction of industry in northern Britain. The common feature is that working people are being affected by poverty, precarious work, economic insecurity and increasing inequality throughout Europe and in this country. We are seeing the failure of the political system to address these issues and the consequential rise of dangerous far right-wing politics.
While I am at it, I highlight that the term "populism" is complete nonsense. It is not populism; it is fascism and far-right politics. The idea that the people on the left who are on the streets campaigning for workers' rights and against racism are somehow the same as those who are racists attacking workers' rights is preposterous. How are they the same? Mr. Orbán is with Fine Gael's party; he is not with the parties of the far left which are protesting against racism and attacks on working people.
By the way, it has nothing to do with social media either. I hear the narrative that it is all a problem of social media. The fascists in the 1930s grew without social media. They have nothing to do with it. There is Government propaganda on social media. There is fake news, extreme right-wing propaganda and so on. We did not have social media in the 1930s, but we still had the rise of fascism. It was for the same reason: the political establishment failed to address inequality, poverty, political alienation and the increasing polarisation in society because of misguided economic priorities. These are the things EU leaders should be considering before we stumble our way back into the horrors of the 1930s.