Saturday 26 November 2011

Nigel Farage & the unelected European technocrats

On 16 November 2011 Nigel Farage, the leader of a minor British right wing, Eurosceptic nationalist party, and elected MEP for South East England made an extraordinary statement at the European Parliament in an EU economic governance debate. The man has had a history of making bold and disrespectful statements in Europe, yet the remarkable thing about this speech was that between the cheap jibes and jingoistic rhetoric, this comical and often derided right wing figure managed to become of the very few politicians expressing any kind of political dissent about the anti-democratic neoliberalisation of the European Union.

The thrust of his speech was that none of the unelected technocrats that run the European Union have taken responsibility for the ongoing economic crisis that they helped to create. People throughout Europe are becoming outraged at the EU's pathetic responses to the European debt crisis and the abject lack of accountability in the political institutions and boardrooms of Europe and Farage expressed these views directly to Europe's unelected and unaccountable leaders.

In the following week, Farage's speech went viral with several million views across the various video sharing sites. It is particularly popular in Spain, where a video of his speech with Spanish subtitles had nearly 1 million views and well over 6,000. Not bad for subtitled video of an unheard of far-right British politician talking about politics.

In fact I only became aware of Farage's latest anti-European Union tirade after several of my Spanish friends posted the link on Facebook. Various commentators on Social networking sites have described his speech as; magnificent, brilliant, unique and full of truth (discurso lleno de verdad). Others have praised him for his tremendous sincerity (tremenda sinceridad), for having balls (cojones, pelotas) and one person even described him as "my hero of the week" (mi héroe de la semana). None of these people had ever heard of Farage before and several of them were joking that they would move to England so that they could vote for him.

Returning to Farage's speech, I think that the reaction shots from the various European leaders (unelected technocrats) that he was directly addressing are perhaps even more informative than the contents of the speech. The sniggering, sneering contempt doesn't look good even to those that are familiar with Farage's controversial and outspoken history in the European Parliament, but to those that don't know who he is, and feel that he was making some fair points, this jaunty attitude must have come across as the the aloof detachment of men who know that they are politically untouchable.

Being the joint leader of the anti-EU block in the European Parliament would have been enough to make Farage an unpopular figure in Brussels and Strasbourg even without the hostile and bombastic tabloid style of his speeches and the numerous accusations of disrespectfulness. The most famous incident happened when he accused the first permanent European President, Herman Von Rumpoy of having the "charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of low grade bank clerk", asked "Who are you? I'd never heard of you, nobody in Europe had ever heard of you" before describing Von Rumpoy's homeland Belgiam as a non-country. This verbal attack earned him a fine of ten days European allowances.

Other famous Farage exchanges include his accusations that the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy had shown "contempt for the very concept of democracy" and telling the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the German presidency of Europe was "dishonest and downright dangerous" before addressing the issue of European totalitarianism.

It is not just foreigners that Farage has been accused of disrespecting. During a 2008 European Parliament standing ovation for Prince Charles, Farage was the only MEP to remain seated, he went on to ask "How can somebody like Prince Charles be allowed to come to the European Parliament at this time to announce he thinks it should have more powers? It would have been better for the country he wants to rule one day if he had stayed home and tried to persuade Gordon Brown to give the people the promised referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon." These comments agitated establishment figures from across the political spectrum but improved his standing in my estimations by showing that despite his objectionable right-wing politics he is a man that doffs his cap to no man, not even British royalty.

Farage's comments about a German dominated Europe, and "the price paid in blood" to prevent it last time around could be seen as a bombastic and inflammatory comparison between the Single European Currency and the last pan-European super economy based on a single currency, the Nazi occupation and the Reichsmark. Mentioning or even alluding to the war is a particularly British faux pas, but if Farage is allowing Nazi parallels to be drawn, we should also consider the rise of dangerous far right extremists posing as populist orators at times of economic instability.

Despite my concerns about his jingoistic attitude and his right-wing policies, his point about lack of democratic accountability in Europe is a perfectly valid one. A view that has been expressed in a somewhat more restrained manner by Farage's political opposite, Tony Benn (one of Britains few remaining committed political socialists) who once described the anti-democratic nature of the European Union project as "running counter to my deepest convictions".

The thing that frightens me the most about Farage's speech, is that it has left me (and many other people) reeling at the frightening idea that a man that could easily be described as a potentially dangerous lunatic from a far-right fringe party is one of the few politicians that is making any kind of sense on the subject of European economic governance.

Of course Farage was right when he opened with the assertion that we are "on the edge of a financial and social disaster", only a pro-EU orthodox neoliberal could disagree. Yet the vast majority of his political peers seem capable only of offering solutions that involve even more of the ideologically driven fundamentalist neoliberal policies that created the crisis in the first place (austerity, privatisation, deregulation, tax cuts for corporations and the super rich elite & stymied fiscal autonomy).

History shows us that it is possible for dangerous fringe lunatics with populist appeal to thrive at times of economic turmoil, mass poverty and high unemployment. The question that remains is whether the scary prospect of a far-right political outsider like Farage in power could actually be any worse than the orthodox neoliberal policies favoured by the legions of corporatist drones that have infected the elected and unelected political classes of the western world? You could perhaps use his warnings about imminent European Economic meltdown and the destructive power of global markets back in January 2009 to decide.

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