In a message sent out on Thursday, Disy chief Averof Neophytou said “Cyprus does not have the luxury to return to the isolation we are being sent to by the Eurosceptics of the Left, the populists and the extremists,” adding that “Brexit is powerful example of the politics of the demagogues that leads to chaos.” His plea could have been described as scaremongering as it is extremely unlikely that the prospective election of an Elam and a couple of Akel MEPs would lead Cyprus to isolation in the EU. The isolation Neophytou warned about can only be inflicted on the country by the government’s stance, as we very well know.
The warning also lacks perspective. According to opinion polls, more than 20 per cent of the seats in the European Parliament could be taken by representatives of populist far-right parties so it doubtful the election of one Elam candidate would isolate Cyprus; on the contrary it would indicate it was following a Europe-wide trend. In Britain, the viciously anti-European Brexit Party is being tipped to win first place in the European elections while in France, Marine Le Pen’s far-right Eurosceptic nationalists are expected to push President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-European centrists into second place. Communist and far right nationalist MEPs from Cyprus would be the least of Europe’s worries.
A paper about what is at stake in these European elections, prepared for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and titled ‘How anti-Europeans plan to wreck Europe and what can be done to stop it’, identifies prospective threats that could be posed by a strong presence of the Eurosceptic far right in the European Parliament (EP). It said: “The vote could see a group of nationalist anti-European political parties that advocate a return to a ‘Europe of the nations’ win a controlling share of seats in the EP. Among them number many figures who are strongly sceptical of free trade, in favour of pulling the drawbridge up against migration, and supportive of Moscow’s arguments about the need to flout international law in the Russian national interest in Ukraine. They are not currently a unified alliance but, in an EP in which their voices entered the mainstream, and in an EU in which transactional decision-making was commonplace, they could let all these ideas shape European policy in the medium term. And, in the longer term, their ability to paralyse decision-making at the centre of the EU would defuse pro-Europeans’ argument that the project is imperfect but capable of reform. At this point, the EU would be living on borrowed time.”
It is perverse how the far-right nationalists could come to exercise great influence in the EP thanks to elections in which most European citizens do not vote. In the majority of member-states, voter turnout for European election is well below 50 per cent – in many cases below 30 per cent – which allows the Eurosceptic far right parties to secure more seats in the EP than their strength in national elections would justify. This is one of the reasons the ECFR paper urged mainstream parties to rally their support and persuade people that the European election actually matters, describing it as “the most consequential parliamentary vote in the EU’s history.”
It warned that “winning a certain number of seats will give anti-European forces influence over key processes and decisions” and explained that “anti-European parties could use this increased share of seats to obstruct the EP’s work on foreign policy, eurozone reform, and freedom of movement, and could limit the EU’s capacity to preserve European values relating to liberty of expression, the rule of law, and civil rights.”
This is what is at stake in today’s European election. Stopping the rise of the anti-European forces and limiting their influence in the EP is vital to the future of the EU. Cyprus does not have a major role to play in this effort, but Neophytou was right to embrace the cause of the pro-European internationalist camp which is under threat from the nationalist far right and the misguided Eurosceptics of the Left. The latter, constantly railing against the EU’s so-called neoliberal policies and close ties with big corporations, are blind to all the European legislation safeguarding workers’ rights that do not exist in most other countries. Immigration is a big problem for Europe because of the prosperity it has achieved through free trade and the market economy promoted by neo-liberal policies. The market may be over-regulated by the Brussels bureaucracy but this could be overcome through reform and not by far-right parties politically undermining the Union on the grounds that it has not dealt effectively with immigration.
It is true that today’s elections are of vital importance as they will indicate in which direction the EU will move in the next few years.