The European Parliament's hand-out to the far-right

The decision to award money to anti-semitic parties shows where the EU is going wrong.

The fight against anti-semitism has just got a whole lot more difficult. The Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals in the European Parliament have just decided to extend a massive subsidy to promote political anti-semitism. €289,266 of taxpayers' money will now be given to openly anti-Jewish parties like Hungary's Jobbik, whose MEPs tried to take their seats in Strasbourg wearing the uniform of the anti-Jewish Hungarian Guard. Krisztina Moravi headed the Jobbik list in the last European Parliament elections and declared she "would be glad if the so-called Hungarian Jews went back to playing with their tiny circumcised dicks instead of vilifying me."

Another beneficiary is the British National Party, whose leader and senior MEP, Nick Griffin, has denied the holocaust and whose only lengthy publication, Who are the Mindbenders?, accused Jewish journalists of forming a secret lobby to control the media. Griffin has moved on to plough the more politically profitable furrows of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant xenophobia but across the European far-right the threnody of a disappeared national identity lost of Jewish influence remains strong.

Predictably, le grandpère of anti-semitic parliamentary politics, Jean Marie Le Pen, who is still an MEP at the age of 83 after decades of anti-Jewish sneers, will also benefit from the handout. The European Parliament grant has been given to the European Alliance of National Movements, (EANM) a grouping of 13 far-right parties. Only three of them have MEPs - eight in total from Britain's BNP, France's Front National, and Hungary's Jobbik.

The grant is to the EANM, even though European Parliament rules stipulate that any political group in Strasbourg should have at least 25 members and have MEPs from at least seven member states. The hurdle is not that high and Britain's Conservatives were able to forge their own alliance with fellow Eurosceptic parties after the 2009 Strasbourg election. But under no interpretation of the European Parliament's rules is there any justification for giving thousands of Euros to extremist anti-democratic parties that do not even have the support to win the odd seat in the Strasbourg assembly under its lax proportional representation electoral system.

Instead this is a fix within a fix. Once elected, MEPs operate an Ottoman system of divvying up the spoils of office between themselves. In the closed corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg, the leaders of the Socialists, Conservatives, Liberal-Democrats, Greens, Communists and Christian Democrats decide who will be president of the European Parliament and who will chair all the key committees. The votes are pure formalities as the deals are decided by a handful of top MEPs without any reference to their colleagues, to their parties, still less to voters.

It is the depressingly undemocratic and unaccountable nature of the European Parliament that has led more and more pro-Europeans like Germany's former Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, France ex-president, Valéry Giscard D'Estaing and myself, to call for reform of the European Parliament so that is has some connection to European citizens.

The scandal of handing out cash to Europe's anti-semites and to parties without even an MEP to their name might encourage governments, who ultimately vote this money, to think harder about overdue reform of the European Parliament. Ever since David Cameron quit the mainstream centre-right grouping in the European Parliament to build links with Latvian defenders of the Waffen SS or the clericalist, nationalist Law and Justice Party in Poland, the Conservatives have had an unhappy relationship with the European Parliament. Their best-known MEP, Edward MacMillan Scott defected to the Liberal Democratic group in 2009 and last week, the Tories' best-known Midlands MEP, Roger Helmer, defected to UKIP.

But Labour and the Lib Dems are scarcely in better shape. UKIP and BNP MEPs outnumber Labour MEPs as the European Parliament allows the election of extreme or fringe candidates who have little real purchase in national politics in terms of parliamentary or local elections. The three decades of the European Parliament's existence has seen ever-decreasing participation in its elections. National parliaments feel utterly excluded from oversight of EU decision-making. The decision to award money to anti-semitic parties should be the occasion for a major re-think about the role and purpose of the European Parliament.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe Minister

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and was a minister at Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Getty
Show Hide image

Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear