January 21, 2007

Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty

Europe has a Parliament but it lacks a political culture. Most of its citizens barely know who is their European MP, let alone how each national party groups together within the Parliament. There has never been a European continent wide campaign- despite the attempts of the socialists to draft a common manifesto- for European elections. In yesterday's Guardian though, Josh Freedman Berthould worried that such a political culture might be just born with the formation of a party called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty.

This new party is made up of a disparate individuals from various parties on Europe's far right- from Alessandra Mussolini to the Austrian Freedom Party to various Rumanian and Bulgarian rightwingers to an ex-Ukip MP- and according to that ex-Ukip MP, Ashley Mote, the only purpose for the Party lies within the European Parliament- Mr Mote disavows his new friends' domestic policies preferring to concentrate on their European policies. So should Freedman Berthould be worried?

There is obvious a rise of the far right going on in various parts of Europe for various different reasons at the moment. Freedman Berthould though is worried about something far more precise- he worries that there may be a nationalist movement gathering pace on the European stage, a movement that he feels might use the new common political culture to vault into power in various countries as protectors of Christian Europe. I disagree though- and this grouping needs more attention before we can show why he is wrong. Let me clarify that there is a very old idea of European Christendom as opposed to the Islamic East- not for nothing was the fall of Constantinople greeted hysterically across Europe in 1453. That kind of European identity doesn't originate from recent times but goes back far earlier- we may not like it but its part of our history. It may be growing at the moment under the pressure of the war on terror, I suspect that gas prices in Russia will also result in Russophobia quite possibly increasing as well and the admission of Turkey will be a controversial issue for years.

Given that is there something new going on- is this group something vastly new. I don't think it is. Europe's relations with the Ottoman Empire were always more complicated than mere division- the French always saw the Ottomans as a natural ally against the Empire as did many others- in the end national interest trumped the conception of Europeanness. In the end what we saw was that local political cultures trumped this vague Christian identity. I don't want to go further into a very complicated area- but there is something in that complication. But in that context look back at Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty- what they are is not a single European rightwing party arising out of a single political culture. Rather what we are seeing is a rather incoherent group of in some cases soldiers of fortune who have come together because it offers them all a renewed respectability. They want a grouping because it gives them access to privileges and funding- but there isn't that much in common between them- they all resent not merely the approach of the Muslim immigrant but also the touch of other European nations. The Western Europeans resent Polish plumbers, the Eastern resent German capitol. Historically it has taken the emergeance of a single charismatic figure to embed the far right in a polity- Le Pen in France say- this group though can never be led because it has no coherence- indeed its coherence is to seek for disbandment.

That isn't to say that this group can't do massive harm through destroying parts of the single market and providing a voice for racist reactionaries in the Parliament- we should prick up our ears and do our best to make sure that they are unable to take their seats again. The danger is in the details of leglislation being ammended by racist deputies.

But neither should we think that this represents a single European fascist party and the claiming of a European identity by it- European identity remains vaguer and much weaker than national identities and until it becomes stronger, European continentalism will remain weaker than its constituent nationalisms.

The situation may change- but its my feeling that Berthould Freedman thinks that a European political culture is more powerful than it actually is. I may be wrong...


The Evil European said...

This lovley new grouping of MEPs may actually help the cause of creating and developing a European identiy...one that stands oppossed to the vile bile that they spew.
People can come together as much against something as for.

edmund said...

Gracchi I certainly agree with you on this new group not representing what people are suggesing it might. I think the Ottoman empire identiy point is more complicated than that- after all did France mena nothing because Bourbon fought for the Hasburgs? A very key point is the collapse of the Christendom/ European identiy due to the splits of the Reformation.

Interstingly I think the concept of Christendom is key to understanding why just about all Christan Democrat parties in the EU are so pro European.

On the first post
I don't really understand why a united europe would be created in oppostion to racism (why is heavily black and hispanic America or Japan not a member if the object is to end racism why have a club where every member has a clear white majorit?) after all the last attempt hardly was based on that.

Vino S said...

Given that the far-right are nationalistic, their new grouping is not going to foster any kind of pan-European white nationalism. It has more been formed to get the benefits of being a recognised political group in the European Parliament than anything else, i would have thought.

Gracchi said...

Evil European I'm not sure you are right- I don't think the same strategic approach would work in Rumania and Bulgaria as in Britain- sociologically, religiously, economically they are very different places with very different political cultures- so I don't think there will be an anti fascist union against the party because I don't think that common tactical direction would work across the continent.

Edmund- historical point, well its difficult to estimate your average French peasant in 1500 and his view of Habsburg power. There are instances of alliances pre reformation as I said in the piece its a complicated area but I don't think you can deny that there were alliances and that at times other identities trumped the idea of Europe- particularly of course the one you refer to which is the Reformation divide- the orthodox divide as well, afterall why did teh West sack Constantinople in 1204 and not sail to its help in 1453? (though of course some volunteers did.)

On the Danish point, I bow to your authority- wider than that I think that there is an interesting link between Catholicism and the Union- some people including the Pope evidently still have an idea of Christendom.

Vino I think I agree with you- though I would say it would depend on the degree to which the group is anti-Islamic rather than just nationalist in the context of each country- but yeah you're right.

Thanks for some really interesting comments guys.

james higham said...

...In the end what we saw was that local political cultures trumped this vague Christian identity...

This is because there IS no Christian identity. It was just a label, a name vaguely subscribed to by the European governments as it availed them in terms of the papacy. All very secular.

Thus when a greater loyalty arose - national identity, it trumped all others and in this respect, you're right.

Christianity is, in essence, an internal, personal commitment and has zero to do with the secular, temporal world. It hankers for the next world.

edmund said...

Gracchi I agree entirely on the orthodox point ( i was excluing them from "europe" in the middle ages I should have been clearer on that) and I assume you mean Christina Democrat-rather htan Danish point?

Gracchi said...

Yes I do mean Christian Democrat.

edmund said...

i also think that while this people are unpleasent when 1/3 of the commission are former members of a stalinsit party-it's odd to make such a fuss about this.

Vino S said...

Edmund, i doubt 1/3 of the members of the European Commission are former communists. Is there a list somewhere of their former affiliations?

edmund said...

I think Peter Hitchens claimed it ( whatevery ou think of him his facts tend to be reasonably accurate-as the Labour party knows to its cost)

If you think of hte number of ex eastern eureopan countries it seems plausible

Google it if you want to prove me wrong!

Gracchi said...

I think Edmund the burden of proof is on you.