Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ethnic Groupings in the European Parliament: A Function of Rhetoric

L’extreme droit a formé un autre parti fédéral. The anti-E.U. party officially announced on June 16, 2015, is named “Europe of Nations and Freedoms.” A label can say a lot about a party’s principles. In this case, the overriding point is that the E.U. is supranational. That is to say, the Union is an international organization. Closely behind is the secondary point that freedom resides at the national level, otherwise known as the level of the states. Even though the supporting state parties were at the time typically labeled as extreme—the extreme right—the main-stream media in the E.U. reporting on the new party used rhetoric subtly undergirding the principles.

Le Pen and Wilders toasting their new ethnic group in the European Parliament.  
(Source: Geert Wilders)

Deutsche Welle, for example, repeatedly refers to the new party as a “group in the European Parliament.”[1] Governments, after all, have parties, and the E.U.’s “assembly” can hardly be considered a legislature—so goes the party-line. Accordingly, the PVV’s Geert Wilders tweeted, “The formation of a group in the European Parliament has succeeded!”[2] Le Pen’s FN put out a statement referring to “a political grouping . . . within the EU assembly.”[3] Both “grouping” and “assembly” intimate an international forum rather than a legislative body whose representatives are elected by citizens directly rather than appointed by states and representing them.

That “Euroskeptic and right-wing parties came out top in the European Parliament elections in May 2014” is to say that the national parties did well. The reference is not to the parties in the Parliament. “In France,” for example, Deutsche Welle reports that “FN garnered more votes than any other party.”[4] The night before the announcement of the new “grouping” in the Parliament, Florian Philippot, vice president of the FN, told Reuters, “We were five and it’s been possible to add two other nationalities to form a group.”[5] Clearly, he was not referring to an ethnically-diverse group of people. The linguistic stretch alone belies the veracity of the rhetoric and its underlying principles.

Imagine the confusion were a new party formed in the U.S. House of Representatives with members from seven states and the rhetoric were similar to that being applied to the chamber’s counterpart in the E.U. A headline such as, “Seven ethnicities have formed a group in the House of Representatives,” would naturally be taken as referring to the Congressional Black Caucus joining forces with other such groups in the House. Of course, race is distinct from ethnicity, but distortive rhetoric in American politics is not the point of this essay. Rather, my point is that a new party in the European Parliament is not somehow akin to the Congressional Black Caucus.

Moreover, a recognized party in a legislative body is not “a grouping.” Nor is the European Parliament an international assembly, for states (a.k.a. nations in the European context) are not represented. Ironically, the word “Congress” comes from the French, le congrès, which can mean “conference”—as in an international conference. The Continental Congress, which was the federal institution from 1776-1781 in the U.S., was indeed a conference, as the thirteen sovereign nations sent delegates to represent those states at a level viewed at the time as international rather than national. It would be une erreur formidable to imply that the E.U. states were still sovereign states at the time of the new party’s announcement, and thus that the E.U. was somehow an international organization with legislative groupings rather than parties.  

1.Le Pen’s FN to Form Far-right Group in EU Parliament,” Deutsche Welle, 16 June 2015.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.