So the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the EU. Casting aside the vague nature of the awardee (as an EU citizen I may well consider putting Nobel Peace Prize winner on my CV, along with Time Magazine Person of the Year 2006), this is an utterly questionable decision.
Ten or twenty years ago it might have been proper to recognise the achievements of a union that has brought peace to the European continent for the last sixty years, but it is not appropriate today. Not when we are dealing with the aftermath of the creation of a single European currency, which despite being sold as a step towards unity, integration and the tearing down of boundaries has resulted in a wave of support for nationalist political parties to a degree not seen since before the second world war. It is just not right to award a peace prize to the EU in the same year that the far-right Golden Dawn party of Greece gained 7% of the vote in a national election, after winning a mere 0.2% in 2009. This is a party that had previously existed on the fringes, consistently accused of anti-semitism. Its resurgence and the general chaos in European politics all comes back to the introduction of the Euro without the introduction of accompanying controls. All roads don't lead to Rome they lead to Brussels.
EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy gave an articulate warning to the Union at the end of 2010 when in Berlin he spoke out against growing nationalism and populism in Europe. "Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war," he said. "Today's nationalism is often not a positive feeling of pride of one's own identity, but a negative feeling of apprehension of the others. Fear of 'enemies' within our borders and beyond our borders".
Here is a snapshot of Europe's nationalist political parties, many of whom combine nationalism with anti-immigration policies. Much has changed in the past four years. In France, Marine Le Pen's National Front won a record 18% of the vote in the recent presidential election. It is predicted that the National Front will gain further traction in June's parliamentary elections. In Austria, the Freedom Party currently controls 34 of 183 seats in parliament and is the second most popular party according to opinion polls. In Sweden, a county renowned for fair policies and good governance, a far-right nationalist party won parliamentary seats for the first time in the 2010 elections. The Sweden Democrats, known for its anti-immigrantion and anti-Islamic stance, received 6% of the vote. In the June 2010 Dutch elections, Geert Wilders' nationalist party more than doubled its share. It is now the third largest party in The Netherlands. In Finland the True Finns received 19.1% of the vote in last year's election compared to 4.1% in 2007.
I won't harangue you with more statistics but the list goes on. In some countries there is mass public suspicion of the most extreme nationalist parties, as with the BNP in Britain or the NDP in Germany, but overall it cannot be denied that this brand of politics is gaining support across the Europe.
I live in Dublin and the same has happened here at home. In the last four years Sinn Féin has built a strong campaign against further European integration and as a result has gained ground at an unprecedented pace. In the run up to the Irish referendum on the Fiscal Compact Treaty Sinn Féin 'NIL' (no) posters were everywhere, far more prominent than the Yes posters erected by ever other Irish party. I don't mean to create links between Sinn Féin and parties like the BNP, but Sinn Féin is undeniably Ireland's most prominent nationalist party. It is also the fastest growing party in the country. February 2011 saw its best ever result in a Dáil election in modern times and more than trebled its number of representatives over the 2007 election. An Irish Times poll taken at the end of April showed that Sinn Féin is now the second most popular Irish party with 21% of the public now behind it.
After World War Two European integration initiatives offered an escape from the extreme nationalism which had devastated the continent for three decades. One of the stated aims of the European Coal and Steel Community, the predecessor to the European Union and the first step in the federation of Europe, was to eliminate the possibility of further wars between its member states by pooling national heavy industries and thus preventing domestic protectionism. For fifty years this aim was successfully and peacefully achieved, and the strength of many nationalist parties ebbed and died across Europe. This is an admirable achievement that deserves worldwide regonition. Yet Europe cannot now be separated from the Euro, that shiny, happy currency that was marketed as a crucial tool in breaking down national borders. It is the Euro that has caused a resurgence of nationalism and it is not right to praise the EU while its citizens deal with this backlash.