Pedro Marques is a member of the European Parliament and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats’ vice-president for social and external Affairs, political planning and communications.
After becoming Italy’s prime minister just a few weeks ago, Giorgia Meloni arrived in Brussels for her introductory tour of the European institutions.
But at the very same time leaders were rolling out the red carpet to welcome her with open arms, even extending an early invitation to speak at an upcoming plenary session of the European Parliament, Meloni was leaving hundreds of refugees and migrants in peril at sea, refusing to allow vulnerable people to disembark safely in Italy.
Hailing from a party with fascist roots, the Italian leader became prime minister in a coalition comprised of friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin and another far-right party. Yet, European presidents and commissioners have made every effort to make Meloni feel welcome. “She has changed,” they say.
So, while fascists are still unacceptable, post-fascists are now apparently welcome to join the club, so long as they watch their tone and target their hatred toward migrants or those who are “different” — just not the European Union.
From Hungary and Poland all the way to Italy, the coalition of right-wing populists keeps growing. Apparently, for a good number of European leaders it seems too hard to imagine Europe working against such a coalition. And while we are witnessing the normalization of the far right, the European project is at risk of saying goodbye to its identity.
As Europe, we are — or were — a project that wanted to integrate everyone, a project united in diversity for peace and progress.
We are a prosperous but ageing continent, which will wither and wane if we fail to share the European dream with those who seek it. Demographic change means there will be fewer and fewer individuals of working age in relation to our inactive population — and this trend will continue for decades. We are in desperate need of those who want to contribute to our societies.
Of course, we have the right to build a family any way we want, with as many children as we see fit. We have the right to healthcare, which allows us to live longer. However, we also have a responsibility to share this well-being and support the European social model with an integration policy based on equal rights and obligations. Otherwise, our well-being won’t be long lasting.
Are the pro-European left and center-left capable of saying this, though?
As union representation has dwindled, our capacity to speak directly to many millions of workers has eroded. Can we win back these millions who have defected to populists due to successive crises and enduring inequalities?
It’s up to progressives to rebuild the coalition of workers in low- and middle-income households, to put forward policies for social justice, to stop pollution and climate change, to regulate globalization, to integrate those who help us to prosper and to stand up against fear and hate. We have to take these arguments directly to citizens, and use all the communication tools and channels available to us that can close the gap between people and policymaking. This is also how we counter fake news and hate speech.
Interestingly, it seems the center right certainly hasn’t learned any lessons from history.
While the conservatives’ need to cling to power was more important than standing up to dangerous fringe parties — hence their successive coalitions and accommodations with the far right — at the very least, they could have learned from the mistakes of the left when, at the turn of the century, it copied the liberal deregulation policies of the right, only to disappear from power for years.
Lacking an institutional solution for the current tension between democrats and those who repeatedly violate the rule of law and use blackmail on a daily basis, how will Europe finally deal with the rise of the far right? Still plagued by inward looking national selfishness, will it manage to survive the attacks on democracy from within?
The list of those complicit in the damage to Europe’s identity is growing by the day. Every time we concede, our values take another blow. And it looks like we will be stuck discussing how to act against violations of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, or the rights of minorities and migrants for years to come.