EU Elections ‘Last Chance to End Nationalist Nightmare’ – Verhofstadt

Top candidate of Liberals (ALDE) Guy Verhofstadt delivers a speech on April 30, 2014 during an UDI / MODEM campaign meeting in Lyon for the European election. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images
VIRGINIA HALE

This year’s EU election will be the “last chance” to kill populism, Guy Verhofstadt has warned, calling for sovereignty-destroying “reform” which would transfer national powers to Brussels.

In an interview with five influential establishment newspapers from across the continent on Tuesday, the veteran MEP and Brussels’ Brexit coordinator gave his backing to the vision of a federal EU superstate unveiled by Emmanuel Macron earlier this week.

A “centrist, pro-European reformist political force” needs to take charge in Brussels following May’s EU elections, Verhofstadt said, stating that the French president’s call “for the revival of Europe” must be “one of the key points of reference” for politicians aligned to this cause.

“The union envisioned by [the French president] is a Europe that can stand on its own two feet, in a world of great powers in which EU nations would not be able to protect their own interests and way of life by themselves,” he said.

Asserting that “nothing is eternal”, the Belgian politician stressed that, without a statist Brussels takeover — which would see Eurocrats create an EU army, seize control over national borders, migration and bloc-wide energy policy, and even “organise the internet in a European way” — a populist “nightmare will become reality”.

Such measures are “not just about blocking populists or nationalists but [are] also about breaking the current status quo and stagnation” that prevents EU officials from imposing top-down “reforms” on every member state, Verhofstadt admitted, dismissing belief that European federalism could be slowed, or that any aspect of national sovereignty could be restored as “stuck in the past”, and ideas which were on par with those of his right-wing “enemies”.

Asked why he believes populist sentiment has been strengthening across the bloc, the former Belgian prime minister blamed the internet, before going on to echo Macron in endorsing an EU-wide purging the internet of so-called “hate”.

“One reason is technical, in that social media is being used for political and electoral abuse such as lies, hate speech and other manipulations about which Facebook, for example, has done very little.”

“A second reason” for the growth of patriotic politics in Europe, according to Verhofstadt, was a “lack of courage” in Brussels to sanction, penalise, and shut down popular conservatives leaders such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.

The 65-year-old, who has led EU Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) for a decade, called for the creation of “a single Euro-African economic area” at a conference of the EU parliamentary grouping last week, claiming such a construct would have an “enormous potential … able to rival with China” in terms of consumer numbers.

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