Identity Politics and Problems in the 2019 European Parliament Elections: Remembering Charles de Gaulle

Caught right off guard or simply unwilling to process the implications that these results may pose, Europe – it may be argued – is visibly unsettled. The results of the European Parliament Elections of 2019 usher in a transformative, albeit disconcerting era where 25 per cent of the European Parliament’s seats are expected to be occupied by the euro-skeptic, far-right, ultra-nationalist parties that have been generating notorious headlines across Europe. Despite the traditional, centrist parties just about managing to scrap the majority in the elections, the question still remains – what can one make of the ruffling victory of the euro-skeptics? Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party of France, Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord (Northern League) party of Italy and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party of Hungary made impressive breakthroughs, with Le Pen most notably managing to win 25 per cent of the vote over incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party, which stood at 21.3 per cent. Salvini, too, confidently and resolutely secured 34 per cent of Italy’s vote.

The momentum that the far-right has picked up within contemporary European politics is a contemplative political development which may be tied down to a diverse range of mutually inclusive and exclusive factors. One of the most pertinent causes for this rise can be linked to the mainstream, centrist, social-democrat parties becoming increasingly influenced by the neoliberal ideological framework – this is most notably encompassed through the economic policies of Emmanuel Macron. Marine Le Pen’s late father, the infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen, had explicitly mentioned the strategy of galvanizing on the disenchantment on the left-leaning supporters who had consistently cast their votes for the social-democrats, stating: ‘Left-wing voters are crossing the red line because they think that salvation from their plight is embodied by Madame Le Pen. They say ‘no’ to a world that seems hard, globalized, implacable. These are working-class people, pensioners, office workers who say, “We don’t want this capitalism and competition in a world where Europe is losing its leadership.’”

The National Rally’s capitalization of the Yellow-Vest movements, particularly on the rationale behind this movement can be seen as mirroring the sentiments of the working classes who became disenfranchised by the centrist, social-democrats who have adopted questionable neoliberal principles.

This political development – or political phenomenon, rather – can make one reminisce France’s political position during the course of the late Charles de Gaulle’s administration. Gaullism (or Gaullisme) was a potent ideology which sought to synthesize social conservatism of the Right, with a state-centered (dirigisme) economic approach of the Left, in order to appeal to an all-encompassing audience. De Gaulle’s ‘a certain idea of France’ defied the conventional political dichotomy of Left/Right politics, as Gaullists and de Gaulle himself refrained from limiting this ideology to this paradigm.

Lawrence Kritzman’s thought-provoking analysis of Gaullism asserted that: ‘Aligned on the political spectrum with the Right, Gaullism was committed nevertheless to the republican values of the Revolution, and so distanced itself from the particularist ambitions of the traditional Right and its xenophobic causes, Gaullism saw as its mission the affirmation of national sovereignty and unity, which was diametrically opposed to the divisiveness created by the leftist commitment to class struggle.’ Taking this identification into consideration, it can be observed that the Gaullist legacy served as a fitting, normative example of the cooperation between the left and right within the same political ideology. It is unfortunate, however, that the 1968 student strikes initiated by the bourgeois, ultra-left (as identified by Neil Clark) ushered in a breakaway of this close cooperation.

Parallels may be drawn over galvanizing on the diversity of voters from the left, as well as the right, with regard to Gaullism, and then, subsequently, from the far-right, euro-skeptic parties. While the European Parliament elections may not be a resounding political victory for the far-right, one has to acknowledge the shortcomings of the pre-election polls in determining the scope of the euro-skeptics’ victory, as well as the force of their campaigns towards garnering support from a diverse audience. Given the quagmire that centrist, social-democrat political parties in Europe find themselves caught in, one may reflect upon the implications and subsequent consequences of this political development and political phenomenon that is sweeping Europe with an alarming force.

Ana Tawfiq Husain is a researcher at the PIIA. 



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