On 29th March 2012 a considerable majority of MEPs voted in favour of introducing tougher rules regarding the funding allocated to racist and xenophobic parties functioning in the EU. While there is no denial of the abhorrence of the views espoused by such parties, is this the correct move for a democratically elected institution?
Tolerance is one of the foundations of democracy, yet it is one of its great paradoxes. Some would say it is a weakness of democracy, while others point to it as a great strength; an ideal that should be cherished and cultivated. The one major problem with tolerance is that it requires us to tolerate the intolerable.
When it it transpired that the Bureau of the European Parliament agreed that an alliance of seven European extreme right wing political parties, which includes the British National Party, the French Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik, would qualify for €289,266 of EU money uproar broke out. The very idea that the so-called Alliance of European Nationalist Movements should have access to direct funding from the EU was seen as counter to the values that the EU holds so dear. In many ways this is true. These parties do not believe in democracy; they do not believe in equality. They are racist and xenophobic and represent everything that the EU has attempted to and continues to challenge.
An alliance of European political groupings including the Greens, the Liberals, the Centre Right as well as the Socialist Group, have called for an immediate revision to the 2003 EU regulation which governs party funding and, following the vote on the 29th March, there is now strong pressure from MEPs for the European Commission to propose a revision. The EP has already begun the process of tightening the requirements for parties to form political groups by introducing stricter rules. These new rules require at least 25 MEPs from seven EU member states and have led to Nationalist parties failing to form a political group in the EP.
There is no question that there needs to be a revision of how party funding is allocated. At present, a political party is eligible if it has members in the European Parliament or a national or regional parliament or a regional assembly in a quarter of the 27 member states; however, a party need only consist of one individual member in each country. This funding process needs to be addressed, if only for transparency’s sake; however, removing funding from parties because of their political views is not necessarily the correct path to take.
History has shown us that denying those who hold views we find abhorrent or intolerable a platform, is not effective. Isolating and segregating those with whom we do not agree works only to strengthen their resolve. Backing them into a corner or driving them underground provides greater strength for their cause and identity. In isolation these extreme groups have no one to challenge them; they exist in a bubble and their views are reinforced and reinvigorated, particularly if they are able to attract others who feel isolated and outside of the status quo. It is easier for them to sell themselves as victims and a voice for the underdog and unappreciated.
Normalising politics is a very complex issue and not one that should be attempted without an in depth look at the unintended consequences. Using funding and administrative techniques is certainly not an effective way to challenge extreme and intolerant views. It merely leads to marginalisation. The EP would do well to take these groups on politically. Challenge them to debates and make them justify their extreme views in a public arena. MEPs would also do well to ask themselves, particularly in economic times such as these, why people find this type of extreme politics appealing and what they can do to better represent those who find comfort in the most uncomfortable of places.