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In European Elections, Far-Right Parties Enjoy A Day In The Sun


Among the parties that did well in Sunday's European parliamentary elections are right-wing populist, anti-immigrant nativists, and some outright neo-Nazis. In short, it was a very good day for the European far right. So, how bad a day was it for the idea that has guided the continent since the end of World War II? The so-called "European project" which those on the far right oppose, the integration of independent states into the EU, the harmonization of national policies instead of cutthroat competition for resources. What we are going to ask Ivo Daalder, who is president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former US permanent Representative to NATO. Ambassador Daalder, thanks for joining us.

IVO DAALDER: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Which is it? A wake-up call for European leaders? That parties opposed to European integration are knocking on the door and may yet kick it in some day, or, hey, it's just a European Parliamentary election, no big deal?

DAALDER: While in some sense it is both. It clearly is a wake-up call in countries like France and Denmark and the UK, where you have these parties who came in, and Greece- who came in first. And it was not just a protest vote. This was a sense that the European project is losing support among a large minority. At the same time, it remains a minority. And the actual impact on politics in Europe will perhaps be less than people may have feared when the results first came out.

SIEGEL: Do you see in these results, for the most part, a reaction against, say, immigration? Or is it a reaction to the recession conditions which might become better just as the economy improves in Europe?

DAALDER: Well clearly it is the economic crisis still being felt in the economies and the nations of Europe. There is high unemployment in many of these countries. There is a worry that high unemployment means that if immigrants are going to take jobs - even more jobs- away from the local population, that something needs to be done.

And so an anti-immigrant and nativist, and actually, a sort of anti-EU and pro-national government in the hope that, that will lead to economic growth and therefore employment, is clearly what is behind here. It is understandable when you have an entire generation that cannot find jobs. You have 25, 30, 40 or 50 percent unemployment among youth, that perhaps they're going to find scapegoats among those people were not, quote, like us.

SIEGEL: Here you have this election in which anger over cheap labor from Eastern Europe - from Romania, Bulgaria - is one of the factors that's stimulating the far right. And the top item on the European agenda is what to do about Ukraine. Presumably, ultimately, that would be the inclusion of the Ukrainian workforce in the EU labor market. Could you as a European leader campaign for that, given what you know to be public opinion about the large EU today?

DAALDER: If there was hesitation about offering EU membership to Ukraine before these elections, then clearly after these elections that hesitation will be even greater. But the idea that the next step is to open the European labor market to Ukraine, or for that matter to Turkey - another country that has been knocking on the door of the European Union for many years - I think at this point is not a realistic prospect.

SIEGEL: So what is a smart set of policies for European leaders, or for people in Brussels to take now, that would be an effective response by the European mainstream to this sudden success on the far right?

DAALDER: Well, I think most of the European countries are going to believe that the kind of policies they have been pursuing for some time are the right policies. At the same time, it is also clear that the idea of a European parliamentary democracy is something that is probably not going to move forward. Democracy requires a demos - a people - and I think one of the things we saw in these elections is there is no European demos.

SIEGEL: Is it possible that with both the Second World War and the Cold War consigned to European history that the pendulum now should swing back to the power of the nation states at the expense of European institutions?

DAALDER: I think inevitably, the power of the nation state will remain strong politically. People identify themselves first and foremost on a regional and a national level before they do on an international level. At the same time, the integration of the European economies, the fact that you have a currency that is now operative in 18 countries, means that there is no turning back from Europe - turning back is not an option.

SIEGEL: Ivo Daalder, thank you very much for talking with us.

DAALDER: It has been my pleasure.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Daalder, former U.S. representative to NATO, is now the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.