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Rebels without a Cause…? - How the rise of Right-Wing and Eurosceptic Youth impacts European Integration

Published on 20 June 2020 at 14:36

Although Euroscepticism has existed since the creation of the European Union, a curious yet troubling trend has developed. Recent elections, such as those in Italy and Poland, uncovered a strong youth element amongst the support base for the “Far-Right” and Eurosceptic parties. This coupled with the recent surge in support for Eurosceptic youth movements such as “Generation Identitaire” in France and the “Identitarians” in Germany and Austria, demonstrates that a demographic known for its traditionally left leaning political views is undergoing radical change. These are not isolated cases. Euroscepticism is no longer a taboo amongst European Youth. Rather, it is now marching on the streets, blocking migrant boats from reaching Europe and building makeshift border walls. As you can guess, this presents “somewhat” of a problem for future Integration into the European Union.

 

Episode One, The Phantom Nationalist.

One aspect shared by these new movements is the focus on nationalism and cultural revival. From the Youth European Alliance for Hope’s message of “A Europe of Fatherlands”, to the Identitarian’s “Cultural Revolution”, it’s clear that young people are being taken in by these ideas in ever increasing numbers. For many, it’s due to a perceived attack on cultural and national identity, levied against them by the European Union, a faceless and seemingly unaccountable organisation that dictates how they live and act. For many, it brings back memories of communist regimes.

It’s having an impact on elections and party politics in Europe. The election of populist parties such as Hungarian Fidesz and the Italian 5 Star Movement reflect this, with the 5 Star Movement capturing a massive 35% of the 18-34-year-old demographic, the highest proportion for a party from this demographic. All these organisations and parties share a Eurosceptic sentiment and are vocal about their objections to what they see as EU “encroachment”. As such, many of these parties and movements are openly advocating for less integration and a push back against many EU institutions Bell

 

Episode Two, Attack on Intergovernmentalism.

This begs the question, how does this impact integration into the EU? 

Well, let’s look at two prevailing theories of EU integration, Neofunctionalism and Intergovernmentalism. For Intergovernmentalism, it’s all about individual member states being the ultimate actors and deciders in European Policy. Out of all the institutions driving the Union, the member states still ultimately hold they keys to the ignition. Unanimity is the name of the game in decision making. Consensus building is what drives the decision-making processes.

Already we have a problem for future integration. Intergovernmentalism requires that for European integration to progress further, we need to see an increase in the amount of Pro-EU domestic governments that are elected. This creates a consensus between member states vis a vis integration, resulting in more pro-integration policies and thus, a more closely integrated Europe. Currently, this is not happening.

 For example, PiS took power as the first ever democratically elected majority party in Poland in the 2015 elections. In that time, they have;

  • Refused to comply with migrant quotas set by the EU, violating Acquis Communitaire
  • Were threatened by the EU with Article 7 sanctions due to “Rule of Law” criteria violations
  • Had an independent inquiry called by the ECJ against them for violation of EU law Hungary’s Fidesz party has;
  • Had Article 7 sanctions invoked against them since gaining power in 2018, due to “threats to the core values of the EU”
  • Closed is border with Slovakia, directly violating the Schengen agreement.

Germany’s AFD party has;

  • Become the third largest party in Germany in the most recent federal elections in 2017. This is after not even qualifying for a seat in the previous two elections.

All of these parties not only share Eurosceptic messages but also had significant youth backing behind them.  The fact that younger generations are abandoning traditional voting behaviours to vote for these parties and support these movements does not bode well for future integration. What we will see is a rise in the number of Eurosceptic governments, legitimised by increasing public and youth support, progressively slowing integration under Intergovernmentalist theory. As mentioned before, we are already seeing this happen.

Episode Three, Revenge on Neofunctionalism.

For neofunctionalism, its all about the idea of spill-over. Essentially, the more interaction that citizens and governments from different member states have with one another, the closer they get. Interdependence in society and in economics results in people willingly choosing to integrate further together.

Once again, we have problem. Neofunctionalism relies on the idea of nationalism becoming somewhat irrelevant. Afterall, interdependence makes it somewhat pointless. Instead, national identity is somewhat replaced by a new collective “we-feeling”, resulting in a transferring of identity from the nation to the collective.  However, the rise of young adults joining nationalist-centred movements and political parties poses a danger to this idea of integration. Youths are partly the drivers of neofuntionalist integration due to their increased likelihood of interconnectedness. However, movements like the Identitarians, are encouraging youths to foster nationalistic “we-feelings”, as opposed to European wide collectivist mentalities.

 YEAH, a coalition of various right-wing youth movements, embodies this with their “Europe of Fatherlands” message, encouraging youth to think from a primarily domestic perspective. Not only this, many of these groups advocate that the Union is a threat to national identity and culture, resulting in the Union being perceived by many as an outside threat and thus, something to be resisted . This is due to things such as migrant quotas being perceived as “replacement” and “ethnic genocide”. To these youths, the EU seems like a monolithic authoritarian regime that dictates how they should think and how they should act. A loss of national identity has led to the redevelopment of the domestic level “we-feeling” and the resurgence of ethnic nationalism.

Both the resurgence of nationalism and the perception of the Union as a threat by the youth seriously endangers the idea of neofunctionalism integration into the European Union, due to degradation of a European wide identity.

 

Episode Four, A New Hope…?

Integration is in trouble, that much is clear. However, this problem is not going ignored. Organisations such as the SEP’s as well as the EYP’s of Europe are promoting a sense of inclusion and raising awareness of the benefits of the Union, specifically targeted at youths and young adults. Although, as of right now, Eurosceptic youths and the movements to which they belong pose a credible danger to further integration. If a response is not enacted quickly and effectively by the Union, these trends will only get worse.


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