“You are walking on water now, but you will drown in Europe.” So said British Member of Parliament and Euroskeptic leader Bill Cash to the newly installed Prime Minister Tony Blair during a parliamentary debate in May 1997.
“Drowning” is a term that applies well to the heavy setback suffered by leftist parties all over Europe in the recent E.U. elections, which took place on June 13 in the 15 member countries of the European Union. The center-right emerged with the largest block of seats, while Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were especially hard-hit by the results.
For the first time in its 20-year history, the European parliament will see a majority of its seats in the hands of the center right. European voters rejected the political blueprint of the “new international left” only two weeks after Mr. Blair and Mr. Schroeder had met in London to launch a “third way” neo-socialist manifesto, an initiative aimed at bringing socialism closer to the center of the political spectrum. Voters also seemed to be opposing the war for “human rights” in Kosovo, which these two leaders staunchly supported.
Despite Blair’s apparent triumphs in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party doubled its seats with 36 percent of the vote, as against 29 percent for the Labour Party. In Germany, the center right (CDU and CSU) won a record 48.7 percent of the vote, while the socialist SPD stopped at 30.7 percent.
Schroeder and Blair’s manifesto had been resisted by the French socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospen, more of an oldstyle leftist; and in France, the Socialist party substantially held. The real loser there was Jacques Chirac, who had openly supported Clinton and Blair in the Kosovo war. Nicola Sarkoz, Chiracs right-hand man in the European elections and interim chairman of the Gaullist RPR, lost to both Socialist François Hollande and the “anti-European” ticket of Charles Pasqua and Philippe de Villiers, whose 13.1 percent of the vote made them the number two French party. Jean Marie Le Pen held his ground (5.7 percent), while a new, anti-environmentalist formation called “Hunting and Fishing,” based on rural and traditional values, won 6.8 percent of the vote.
In Italy, the elections were a triumph for Forza Italia’s leader Silvio Berlusconi, whose “ideological” anticommunism continues to be appreciated by moderate voters. In varying degrees, the center-right also prevailed in Spain, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, and Greece. In Portugal, despite his victory, Socialist leader Mario Soares will not get the much sought-after office of president of the European Parliament.
These election results have broad implications for the European Union, and I discussed them recently with Bill Cash, leader of the Euroskeptics in Britain and Europe. Mr. Cash, Conservative MP for the constituency of Stone, led a rebellion against his own government at the time of the Maastricht Treaty on the grounds that it was a sellout of national sovereignty. Cash is the chairman of the London-based European Foundation.
Alberto Carosa: What is your evaluation of the recent European Parliament elections in the United Kingdom and elsewhere?
Bill Cash: First of all, it is a very considerable success for the Conservative Party, because we’ve got 36 seats in the European Parliament and the Labour Party has only got 29. It is a reflection not of apathy or fatigue, which is what some people have been trying to say from the Labour side, but actually a protest vote against the way Europe has been going; against the European Commission, which collapsed in ignominy; against the high unemployment in Europe; against the weak euro; against the lack of democracy and accountability. It is also a general feeling that Europe has been taken into European government, and the British people insist on governing themselves.
Although there was a low turnout, the fact is that the Liberal Democrats, for example, who expected to benefit from proportional representation, did fare very badly indeed, and the so-called pro-European Conservative Party, which was set up to attack the real Conservative Party, only managed to achieve about one percent. There were other parties, like the United Kingdom Independence Party, which did quite well, and I think they’ve got three seats. But the fact is that they are following a policy of getting out of Europe, and although they did tolerably well, they did not compare with the Conservative Party, [which holds that] we want to be in Europe but not run by Europe. We want to have a degree of involvement, trading, single market, all those sort of things, but not to have all our laws and Westminster democracy bungled up into a rubbish dump.
AC: There was low turnout virtually all over Europe, around 50 percent on average. Does this mean that other Europeans are dissatisfied with the European Union?
BC: I think it is not only in Britain that people are dissatisfied. [People] are beginning to see the connection between the constraints imposed on their right to have expenditure on health, social services, defense, and education, which is being held back by the insistence of the Central European Bank, [whose members] are unelected and unaccountable, [and] a budget which prevents the proper provision for public services all over Europe. There is a reaction against that, and against the enormous amount of overregulation, and then, of course, the businessmen want to be able to trade more freely.
The whole thing has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare, and people are fed up with it. The farmers are fed up with the way in which they are given such a raw deal, and of course the move towards majority voting for a common defense policy is a very, very sensitive question. It is a very bad move, because I don’t believe that any country in Europe would really want to have their young generations sent to wars over which they as a country have no control because it was decided by majority vote. So there are lots of reasons why the people of Europe as a whole are now beginning to have second thoughts. People like myself who, for the best part of 15 years, have been campaigning for a Europe that works better, for a Europe that is democratic and accountable, [a Europe in which] people can make choices in their own countries as to what kind of government they have, are now beginning to win the argument — and not just in Britain.
AC: L.eft-leaning leaders from Clinton to Blair, Schroeder, and D’Alema appear to be in favor of the much-vaunted “third way,” so much so that, before the European elections, Blair and Schroeder signed a formal accord in London. What are your thoughts?
BC: The “third way” is no way. It is simply a public relations exercise. There are very clear issues which confront all the people of Europe and individual countries in particular. And the idea that there is some new way called “a third way” is not the answer. The real [answer] is to look at the individual issues, relate them on a common-sense basis to the practical requirements of the people who are living in the democracies in question, and ensure that they have the right to make proper choices, some of which are quite hard choices. The “third way” is just a slogan. It is all part of the process of dumbing down, of reducing the controversy and argument which is inevitable and necessary in a proper democracy. The idea that you can resolve everything by starting with consensus as the means of achieving an objective is a completely false way of looking at politics. You have to arrive at an agreement after a proper discussion, a proper debate. You don’t start with a “third way” which avoids the debate between the two alternatives.
AC: Fancy for a moment that you became prime minister. What is the first thing you would do?
BC: I don’t think that will ever be the case. However, I would do what John Major should have done: effectively impose a veto on the manner in which Europe has been developing. It has been moving by stealth towards a one-country solution, which is the wrong solution for Europe. We want to have cooperation among the nation-states, but we most emphatically do not want one country [governed] by majority vote. That would be disastrous. Again, look at the record: high unemployment, an undemocratic and unaccountable commission which covered itself with ignominy, no money to pay for future pensions, and a court of justice that overreaches itself and is given functions that I do not believe a European court should be given, because it takes [the court] into the area of government. The Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty and some aspects of the other treaties have to be fundamentally renegotiated to bring the whole of Europe back into working order, where people can live in peace and prosperity together, but not be dominated by any one country or unelected or unaccountable institutions.
On the other hand, Europe cannot afford to continue the European Union without Britain, because we are needed for our democratic credentials, our determination, our place in history, and also our trade. The business of threatening Britain with trade barriers is unrealistic, a joke. On the figures I have seen, that would cost the rest of Europe £170 billion [over $300 billion U.S.] a year and they could not afford to do that.
Many Germans, including the German government, want a new constitution for Europe. You have Joschka Fischer [Germany’s foreign minister] saying that the decisive task for our time is to create a new legal entity in international law. That means by any other name one country called Europe, divided into provinces. But we need instead to have independent national parliaments working together to try to achieve cooperation, to work within the single market to ensure you have genuine accountability so that there is a real democracy. That’s why I would like to see a “no” vote in our referendum on the adhesion to the euro.
It is the duty of European politicians to sit down and thrash out amongst one another why Europe has been going wrong, and to make sure that we have a Europe which is an association of nation-states working together for the common good—but also representing the vital national interests of each of the countries concerned.