GENEVA, June 4, 2014 — On what can be called Europe’s “Super Sunday,” 21 European countries went out to vote on the composition of the future European Parliament. This exercise in multinational democracy yielded a hodgepodge result, with many extremist parties topping national polls, sending a bizarre assortment of far-left and far-right figures to sit on the benches of a political body they are keen to disband.
Across the continent, a motley crew of neo-Nazis, fascists, and communists managed to get a fifth of the votes that were cast to fill in the 751 seats of the European Parliament
The results in France and the U.K. were the ones to make the biggest splash in international media. The Financial Times, in an effort to whitewash the resounding defeat of Europe’s established parties, tried to ease the minds of worried voters by arguing that a Eurosceptic victory was a long time in the making and that their success will be short-lived. As Europe crawls out of its economic quagmire, the appeal of populism will decrease, others predicted.
The consensus among pundits bent on micro-level political analysis was that the extremists are very much divided among themselves and that they will probably quarrel more than impact the decisions taken in the Union. But should we discard the threat so easily?
There is a real threat that the horde of Eurosceptics could actually manage to wreak havoc on not only European, but also U.S economic growth over the long term. Indeed, there is one theme that bridges the gap between both ends of the political spectrum: the long-in-the-making E.U.-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
If there is one thing Europe’s populists love, it is creating mass hysterias over ancillary issues that, when covered in nationalist-tinged wrapping paper, push voters into a frenzy. The latest scare is over the TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), where concerns over food safety have topped a long list of objections to the agreement.
France’s far-left group Front de Gauche galvanized its electorate by broadcasting videos depicting people dressed like poultry washed in chlorinated water, which, they moaned will soon be making their way into the bellies of unaware European consumers.
Other problems with the proposed treaty come from the controversial practice of American food producers that inject animals with artificial hormones, banned under European law. Opponents have extensively used it as a symbol of everything that is wrong with Europe, transforming the hormones into mythical symbols of euroscepticism.
Marine Le Pen, the self-crowned leader of the Eurosceptic movement, sought to take the reins on the TTIP, saying that, once in Parliament, she will seek an alliance with parties on both ends of the political spectrum and try to scuttle the deal. Indeed, many populists across the Continent have already rallied to her call against corporate greed and more European integration and it is likely they will continue to follow her lead. With the European Parliament already divided over TTIP, these champions of the nation state could force a negative vote and permanently bury the deal, which aims to create the largest trade area in the world.
Unfortunately, food safety is not the only objection raised against the proposed transatlantic treaty. The safety of European businesses and concerns over the loss of national sovereignty are considered to be at stake if the deal goes ahead, offering a very fertile ground for anti-establishment parties.
Like all savvy demagogues, the newly anointed leaders of European nationalism failed to mention the advantages such a treaty would bring on both sides of the Atlantic. If the deal falls through under the pressure of populists, the European Union stands to lose 0.5 percent per year in missed GDP, while the U.S. would be denied 0.4 percent of GDP growth.
Moreover, the European Commission expects that the number of jobs dependent on exports in the EU to rise by several million once the deal is complete. Following years of decline, these numbers would give a massive boost to both economies, putting austerity in the rearview mirror.
European officials have tried to reassure the public that “basic laws, like those relating to GMOs or which are there to protect human life and health, animal health and welfare, or environment and consumer interests will not be part of the negotiations”. Their speeches fell on deaf ears, pointing once more to the growing distrust Europeans have over the embattled Union – and their disgruntled stance toward even national politicians
Not many details have been made public over the actual content of the planned trade agreement, as talks are still ongoing in Brussels. But the longer it takes for negotiators to reach a common ground, the more time will the Eurosceptics have to get their act together and mount a stronger, more cohesive case against it. Were the deal to be rejected in Parliament, both Europe and Washington would lose out on billions in bilateral trade and millions of new jobs, all because the specter of nationalism is once again haunting Europe — this time by using fowl and beef for political capital.