All the indications are there. On both sides of the Atlantic there is, occurring, a paradigm shift in everyday politics that is bound to serve as a formidable challenge to the status quo so beloved of the Establishment in the civilised world.
Long-established political parties which choose to remain stuck to old and weary ideas have not only been surpassed at the polls, but some are even facing extinction. The growing popularity of populist parties and politicians is of major concern at a time when division and polarisation are contaminating the Western nations of both Europe and the United States. It is now being felt, seen and fully realised as this paradigm shift shoves extremist views, prejudiced principles and worrying methods into the fast-revolving sphere of political power.
It is not just the current scenario in the United States following the shock election victory by Donald Trump that has shaken both the centre-right and centreleft elements into realisation. All that was preceded by the Brexit referendum, result in the United Kingdom and the advent of new, hitherto unknown political forces that have come strongly into the scene to threaten the traditional and often disorientated power sources associated with the practice of moderate politics on the basis of comfortable alternation.
We have seen this marked shift towards ultra-right-wing and Eurosceptic political parties occurring at European, national, regional and local elections, an onslaught that has taken the oxygen out of the traditional political class.
In Europe, Marine Le Pen’s National Front far-right party – which has been known in the past to deny the Holocaust and the impact the Nazi invasion during WWII had on the country – seems set to consolidate its grip on power at the highest level. Its dash into the ever higher echelons of power is based strictly on populist and nationalistic reasoning: “Our people demand one type of politics: They want politics by the French, for the French, with the French. They don’t want to be led anymore from outside, to submit to laws.”
After Brexit, Europe continues to watch horrified as other nations and EU member states go through the same process. From France to Germany where the socalled “unelectable mavericks” of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AFD) have been rapidly making gradual inroads into power under the slogan of ‘Have Courage to be Germany’ and demands for a return to the Deutschmark and the repatriation of powers from Brussels. Its former leader, Bernd Lucke, replaced last year by Frauke Petry, once infamously referred to poor immigrants as “social dregs”.
Similar ultra-right parties in Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Austria and elsewhere are also part of this paradigm shift. Many of them have open anti-immigrants and anti-EU policies. Their leaders have been regularly portrayed as “eccentrics” who have come up with “crazy” proposals only to helplessly watch them making swift electoral gains at the expense of the major power houses of Europe. All this was before the Trump story.
Europe’s switch to “patriotic” and jingoistic ideas, as opposed to unity in diversity, is the longdrawn result of wasted opportunities and needless procrastination. It is, no doubt, also the backlash from years of austerity that left an indelible mark on the middle and working classes, both certainly not to blame for the banking and financial crises that hit the United States and Europe.
The transition back from sheer austerity to a progressive approach has been hampered by the deluge of immigrants and refugees, an issue that continues to seriously threaten the very survival of the European Union.
A Europe that cannot come to terms with itself, is in urgent need of a new injection of ideas and proposals based on people’s wishes, on the demands of citizens who have had enough of ideological discord and the perpetual digging of trenches at a time when the things most needed are action and innovation.
On the eve of its assumption of the presidency of the EU Council, Malta can be cited as the ideal torch-bearer. Since the change of government in March of 2013, the island has undergone a remarkable rejuvenation, easing itself from the lackadaisical to the innovative by revamping its economy and removing the last vestiges of austerity that had inhibited it for far too long.
The result is an EU member state, ironically the smallest, that has achieved sustained economic growth culminating in record low unemployment figures, record increases in foreign investment, a shrinking deficit, and a constant outlay of peoplefriendly budget measures and benefits.
The best weapon against extremism of both the right and the left is economic growth and the real well-being of the citizen. As long as people anywhere find themselves in a situation where they have to grind out a living, there will always be the false prophets promising them heaven on earth.
Certain Europeans are witnessing it at first hand, though hopefully they won’t come to regret it. The Maltese Presidency is facing a herculean challenge of trying to organise a most diverse political fracas under one voice.