Socialist Worker

Europe's leaders-united against the far right?

Issue No. 1683


Europe's leaders-united against the far right?

By Alex Callinicos

IT IS no surprise that the entry of the far right Freedom Party into the Austrian government sent a wave of anger among opponents of racism and fascism throughout Europe. What's much more surprising is the relatively tough reaction from the other 14 member governments of the European Union. Take, for example, Jacques Chirac, the French president.

It was Chirac who apparently initiated the call for European governments to impose sanctions on Austria. A lifelong Gaullist, he is hardly a principled fighter against racism. Indeed, back in the early 1990s he made a notorious speech that appealed to the racist vote by referring to "the smell and noise of immigrant areas". But in a way it is because mainstream conservatives like Chirac count racists among their supporters that they are so worried about far right demagogues like J�rg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The Gaullists in France, and the Christian Democrats in Germany and Italy, emerged after the Second World War as broad rallying fronts for all right of centre forces. In effect they were coalitions whose supporters ranged from extremist bigots with a fascist past or sympathies to centrists who would be equally at home, say, in the British Liberal Democrats or New Labour. Now, however, mainstream conservative parties are in crisis. The Italian Christian Democrats disintegrated in the early 1990s. The Helmut Kohl scandal has sent their German counterparts into a tailspin and the French parliamentary right is deeply split.

In this situation mass far right parties present a mortal danger. They can further weaken and marginalise the mainstream conservatives by using racism to win over the more reactionary section of their electoral base. The conservatives can respond to the rise of the far right in one of two ways. One is to ally with them in the hope of drawing their teeth and winning over their supporters. This is the strategy being pursued by the Austrian People's Party in forming a coalition with Haider. Its leader, Wolfgang Sch�ssel, has been boasting to the media that, as chancellor, he can tame Haider.

The trouble is that, as everyone with half a brain knows, this was also the strategy pursued by the German president, Field Marshal Hindenburg, and his adviser Franz von Papen when they made Hitler chancellor in January 1933. Almost certainly Haider is looking forward to the failure of the coalition government and a new election in which the Freedom Party supplants the People's Party as the main right of centre force. The other strategy is to try to isolate the far right in the hope of driving them back to the political margins and recreating the old conservative coalition.

This was Chirac's response when a section of the French parliamentary right decided in 1998 to block with the National Front at the regional level. The other main force be hind the EU hard line is the social democratic governments that now rule much of Europe. However much "modernisation" may have taken place at the top, the European labour movement still harbours the bitterest memories of fascism. Indeed, not long ago the social democratic governments sought to activate these memories to win support for NATO's war against Serbia. Joschka Fischer, foreign minister in Germany's red-green government, even called the bombing campaign an "anti-fascist" struggle like the Spanish Civil War.

Having waged such a war in the name of human rights, social democratic leaders like Lionel Jospin and Gerhard Schr�der could hardly sit by as Nazi sympathisers took office in Vienna. Despite its "ethical" foreign policy New Labour's response was muted compared to that of its counterparts on the continent. Tony Blair is too busy running scared of eurosceptic media barons like Rupert Murdoch to commit himself enthusiastically to what Tory commentators denounced as the EU ganging up on a member government.

Welcome though the campaign to isolate Austria is, external pressures alone cannot get rid of Haider. After all, this is not the first time the far right have entered a European government in recent years. In Italy in 1994 the fascist National Alliance led by Gianfranco Fini joined Silvio Berlusconi's right wing coalition. The other governments of Europe pretended nothing of importance had happened and welcomed the fascist ministers to their meetings. But within a year the government had collapsed, its back broken by a massive general strike in 1994. All our efforts must be concentrated on encouraging the Austrian working class also to sweep away the scum who have crawled out of the gutters and into Vienna's ministries.

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Sat 12 Feb 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1683
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