The danger of the politician’s extremism
How is the politician dangerously influencing society on a national and international level
By Maria Gayed, participant Our Future Europe 2014
The political environment in Member States of the European Union has been growing more toxic over the past years due to: growing populism, xenophobia, racism and right-winged extremism. According to EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, the number of elected far right parties in EU Member States is at an all-time high since the Second World War.1 In response to this growing toxicity of xenophobia, racism and extremism in the European Union, various EU bodies have been and are preparing legislation to tackle growing hate speech that spurs from the xenophobia, racism and extreme far-right environments, especially on the internet. Why is it so harmful that politicians are playing these games of populism and extremism? And what can the European Union do to dissolve the growing hate speech in the political environment of various Member States?
With the increasing nationalism in many EU Member States and potential candidate states, politicians are able to easily put much blame of their problems onto immigrants. It is a classic trick in the book of politics: by creating a common enemy or black sheep, a politician is able to unite many voters against this ‘evil’ entity, whether they be within the nation or within Europe. Immigrants are blamed for unemployment rates, and for not integrating well enough into the society they have immigrated to among other things. Other Member States are blamed for not doing their part in the European Union, and conflicts from the past still play in the background for many Member States and potential candidate states. When people see their own politicians play out these games of sprouting tensions, it is easy for them to follow in their footsteps. The thing about politicians is that mostly they just have to get attention in order for them to gain votes; so they tell stories with only half of the facts. The way to go is populism, in which it spreads simplistic and antagonistic images of situations in order to sway as many voters as possible.2
Not many far right-winged politicians will admit to the fact that immigrants actually help the EU economy and that this group can counter the increasing age gap between young and elders and increase birth rates throughout the EU.3 However, there is a difference between politicians and voters. Politicians are restrained by their image and the need to stay somewhat politically correct, but the people? The people have less to worry about, and so there is a possibility that they make harsher and more hateful statements than the politicians they vote for. Whatever tensions there may be in the political sphere of society, it always spreads to the rest of the society growing and affecting more and more aspects of civic life.
In response to growing polarization resulting in hate speech in Europe, the EU has been working on internet limitations when it comes to hate speech online. Scholars have been debating whether such limitations, or censorship by the EU is lawful or not. A difficulty in banning hate speech throughout the whole of the European Union is the harmonization process that would be needed to implement a standard of what is considered to be hate speech and what is not.4 So the European Union can choose between two paths to take in my opinion: either a direct approach in which it tries to censor as much hate speech as possible, or an indirect approach in which the EU condemns and maybe punish those Member States and potential candidates when those fail to enforce a no hate speech regime.
At least there is an upside to the situation: these nationalistic, populist politicians will probably never work together on the European level, since they are far too nationalistic to do so. This division results in these MEPs not forming a political group, and thereby reducing the damage that they can do.5