Yes To Conservatism – No To Populism!

The existence of Eurosceptical opinions and movements in the European continent is not a big surprise for anyone. And even though last year the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the promotion of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe, still every day some tough opinions are expressed by different officials and activists regarding the future of the EU.

One thing is for sure, conservatism as a European political category could not be considered as a direct threat to any pan-European idea. Even more, through conservatism it is possible to present quite non-conservative approaches and try to bring forward interests of quite big groups.

Simultaneously, it is undeniable that populist forces are on the rise in most European countries – North and South, East and West – and that they resort to anti-EU rhetoric to increase their political and electoral support. The very recent combination of the global financial and economic crises with the particular European sovereign debt crisis, crucial political and economic instability in Greece, Italy and now already in Cyprus, incredibly high rates of unemployment, for example, in Spain, still not so clear internal political and legal developments in Hungary and many other unpleasant processes for the EU as a system have only and directly strengthened the conservative, Eurosceptical and populist trends within the EU. It is also equally undeniable that the mainstream parties all over EU now embrace some elements of that rhetoric  to achieve more local goals. The UK example could be considered the best one, which shows how it is easily possible to earn local benefits through developing an anti-EU populism. Yes, yes, you are right! I was hinting on the UK Prime Minister H.E. David Cameron for his breathtaking and extremely interesting, speculative and controversial Bloomberg speech of January 24, 2013. Some may argue that about 2 months have already passed since that and several processes and developments have already undergone, but I would still focus on it as it was a totally controversial one. The existence of the Eurosceptical and in some cases even isolationistic approaches in the UK has already become a common thing, but it has been totally new thing for the UK PM officially to promise the EU exit by referendum to the UK citizens.

In my opinion, Mr. Cameron has raised rather crucial questions such as the Eurozone crisis and its future, European competitiveness, place and role of nation states in the EU. I would have to agree with the UK PM on the point that these problems have been around for too long, while the progress in dealing with them is mostly far too slow. But frankly speaking, these are not only the questions or problems which bother the British society, but the communities and public opinion in many other corners of the EU. I don’t think that playing somehow the role of the tough conservative, who also promises to hold a referendum to exit the EU, is the best solution in this regard.

Of course, the rise and decline of populist forces and the spread of Eurosceptical rhetoric have not always gone hand-in-hand. Particularly, as the practice shows, the Nordic states have long experienced recurrent surges of populist parties and lists, usually driven by tax revolts, while being mostly indifferent to the issue of European integration and enlargement. On the contrary, the UK government and politicians who have always expressed their disagreement on the situation in the Union, support any EU integration, enlargement process and even accession of the new members to the EU.

In any circumstance, one thing is clear: conservatism could never be considered a threat to the EU common values unless it gets populist colors. Additionally, as the practice shows, in case the decision makers take into account the positive approaches of the conservatives, the decisions even on the highest level become more comprehensive and express the opinion of the wider segments of society. So, maybe the remedy for the Europe-wide happiness is simple:  “Yes to conservatism, no to populism”.

But as my Grandfather has used to say – let’s live and see!


Written by Armenak Minasyants, AEGEE-Europe CD Assistant/Policy Officer on European Integration

Photos courtesy of Tsoline Aleksanyan, AEGEE-Yerevan