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The far right is no great shakes

McDONALD’S acceded to a police request to cease the sales of its McFlurry confection but a smart branding exercise by its rivals has made Burger King milkshakes the anti-fascist weapon of choice.

As the EU election campaign offers ever greater opportunities to mock, humiliate and poke fun at our fascist fringe the continent’s far-right populists gathered in Milan at the invitation of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.



The EU’s mainstream political blocs are in some disarray. With those centre left and centre right forces most committed to the EU electorally weakened the far right sees an opportunity to gain a political edge, even to seize control of the EU machinery or at least parts of it.

But despite their surface similarity, this disparate group of populists find themselves at loggerheads over key questions of domestic and foreign policy.

Salvini wants the EU to manage a redistribution of migrants and refugees entering through Italy. He also wants the 3 per cent limit on member states’ deficit limits to be abandoned to give the Italian government a bit more headroom to meet the insistent demands of its electorate which took the anti-austerity promises of both the Lega and his coalition partners Moviemento Cinque Stella as a criticism of the EU.

The equally nasty regimes in Poland, Hungary and Austria (now in meltdown) and the Alliance for Germany AfD opposition party want exactly the opposite migration policy. 

This is for reasons connected not only to the various manifestations of racism in these states but because they have different labour market priorities from the powerful elites that drive EU economic policy.

The European Union is proving to be a less reliable instrument for resolving contradictions among its member states and competing elites than either centre right, liberal or social democratic opinion has hitherto hoped.

In addition, although these right-wing populists are something of a problem for the big business and finance circles that stand behind the likes of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron they lack the long-term cohesiveness or numbers to reshape the institutions of the EU. 

Like those leftwingers who think the EU can be transformed by populating its structures, they too will find out that the real decision-making ever eludes the grasp of forces outside the charmed circle whether they come from the left or the right.

It is interesting to see how the bid by these subaltern sections of the European right to find a common platform runs up against the logic of their competing nationalisms.

Hungary’s Victor Orban stayed away and the surface unity of Salvini and Marine Le Pen is quite fragile. She has abandoned the idea of breaking with the EU and is returning, step by step, closer to the foundational fascist idea of an imperial Europe united against competing power blocs.

Others, including important sections of German capital, think there is some advantage in cuddling up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

It is fascinating to see how each of these forces now seeks some kind of compromise, holding out the prospect of an accommodation with the EU and reshaping it to meet their priorities.

As they seek to reconcile the straitjacket of their right-wing mindset with the quite legitimate aspirations of their electoral bases to find a way out of austerity, they will run up against the limits of their ability to challenge the power of big business and finance and will strike a deal with it.

The populist right – in or out of the EU – cannot meet the needs of working people. Almost uniquely our country has a Labour government in waiting that can.


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