Europe’s nationalist demons are not sleeping, they have already woken up

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Holding together and strengthening the European Monetary Union is vital, but we must take care we do not sacrifice the foundations of peace and fraternity on which the European Union was founded, writes MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis is a German politician of Greek descent, Member of the European Parliament with the Free Democratic Party of Germany.

"Last week, Jean-Claude Junker addressed the phenomenon of the rise of nationalism and the spread of discord across Europe. Though Mr Junker's observation was correct, he did not address one of the root causes; the worsening economic conditions several European countries find themselves in. 

This is a direct consequence of the austerity packages so many European countries have been forced to implement. Is it any wonder that there is a growing anger and resentment towards Germany from countries like Greece and Italy when these decisions are perceived to be coming directly from Berlin? Unfortunately, there is much more at stake here than inter-European squabbling.

I have held last week a forum on the rise of extremism in Europe, in which the popularity of Greek extreme right party Golden Dawn was examined as a case study. The panel agreed that the deteriorating economic circumstances of the last few years, combined with an unbridled immigration problem, have fuelled the support this party received.

In fact, the majority of Golden Dawn's supporters have turned to this party not out of belief, but out of perceived necessity. History teaches us that necessity also fuelled the rise of the NSDAP during the Weimar Republic. Put a photograph of food queues in Berlin of 1931 and Athens of 2013 side-by-side and you will see the shocking similarities.

Holding together and strengthening the European Monetary Union is vital, but we must take care we do not sacrifice the foundations of peace and fraternity on which the European Union was founded. The European project was forged in an attempt to establish sustainable peace and discourage national extremism.

Unfortunately, the measures of the Troika are having the opposite effect. The recipients of the bailout packages feel that all these measures have no democratic legitimacy- the latest example being the EU and IMF-imposed tax levy on the Cypriot people. This decision has no precedent and violates the European laws on safeguarding minimum deposits. Whatever next?

These measures are making people doubt whether Europe is good for them, on both sides. European leaders must work together to create a new narrative for Europe.

A mechanism of fair share could be such a narrative and the beginning of a new paradigm of solidarity. Would Germany have had her surplus without 20 years of a Common Market and 10 years of a monetary union (not to mention the forgiveness of her own debt obligations after the Second World War)? Isn't there an ethical obligation to think of a cross-European redistribution of their wealth?

The "right policies" should include economic reforms but, as we have seen from the results of the last few years in Greece and Portugal, change cannot come solely from a blind pursuit of austerity measures. The right policies and reforms should be based on solidarity and growth. The European Parliament echoed this on Wednesday, when it rejected the Council's proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework and asked for economic governance legislation that makes provisions for growth as well as better oversight of the work of the Troika.

Europe's nationalist demons are not sleeping. They have already woken up in Greece and the phenomenon is spreading. Italy's far right nationalist party Forza Nuova is yet another example. Golden Dawn has recently opened a regional office in Nuremberg, an ominous symbolic gesture.

Europe must learn the lessons of history and address these phenomena now, while there is still time. We must tackle these dividing forces together, if we want to avoid the complete disintegration of the European project. An economic union without a social union will not endure."

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