Earlier this year, the European Parliament came under criticism for awarding funding of €289,266 to a newly created cross-European alliance of political parties. This is nothing new, the Parliament has been providing funding for similar such alliances, including the Party of European Socialists and the European Greens, since 2003. The difference here was that this group was made up of hard-line nationalist and anti-immigration parties, often referred to as “extreme right wing” and “neo-fascist”, including the British National Party (BNP), the French Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik Party.
There are many criticisms which have been levelled at the European Union since its inception over 60 years ago, mainly around the idea that integration into the union threatens each individual nation’s integrity, individually and identity; as well as its heavy reliance on bureaucracy. The issue however, rests on whether these organisations, which promote policies of racial separation, immigration bans and in some cases, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, should be treated equally with other more mainstream parties and organisations, when they do not themselves believe in equality for others. The founding principles of the EU are based on the “the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human right.” The European Constitution also “guarantees the free movement of persons within the Union” and aims to promote “cultural and linguistic diversity”. This seems to stand completely at odds with everything these anti-immigrant parties believe in.
While large-scale, organised anti-immigration and neo-fascism is virtually non-existent in Ireland, many will be familiar with the BNP and its outspoken leader Nick Griffin, who is no stranger to controversy. The BNP was created in 1985 as a split-off faction from the openly fascist, Nazi-sympathising National Front. However, in recent years they have reduced their focus on anti-Semitism as a part of their modernisation. It is no secret that many find their views, and the views of parties like them, abhorrent and wrong. These parties believe in very strict racial division and anti-immigration policies, and would ideally create a nation of only white, English speaking people. The idea of such ideas taking hold is downright terrifying to many in Europe, as the EU was set up specifically to prevent the actions and atrocities of World War II from being repeated. A fear of fascism, and its potential to rise again, is still high in Germany and other countries at the centre of Europe, where laws are in place to outlaw such movements.
The EU is an organisation that was founded on certain principles, and as such it is not outrageous that they would seek to confine their funding to those who adhere to these principles. However, in this case, that comes at a risk of discriminating against a group based on their political beliefs, which also goes against the fundamental human rights to which we are all entitled: the right to free speech, and to freedom of thought and conscience. Is having a diversity of outlooks as important as protecting cultural and racial diversity?
The BNP and organisations like them would not characterise themselves as “evil” or driven by hate. They describe themselves “patriotic” and “nationalists” who are protecting what they believe is the integrity of their nation and identity in the way that they see fit. Griffin himself has even praised those in other nations and races who share a similar goal, saying: “We share a common struggle for the same ends, racial separation and racial freedom”.
In European society, free speech is seen as fundamental, and there is a constant watch to combat overenthusiastic censorship. Then again, it is easy to protect the free speech rights of those you agree with, it is a much harder thing to defend the rights of those with a differing opinion, or those whose opinions you find downright offensive. In legal terms, freedom of speech can only be restricted when it is seen to incite others to hatred, or acts of hatred. Up until that point individuals and organisations are free to say whatever they like.
The choice is left up to the public whether or not they want to listen. This is, or at least should be, the very basis of a democratic society. You choose a stance, those who agree with you will fund or campaign for you, and it is up to the electorate to find out about each party’s stance, and vote for who they agree with. We should respect the intelligence of the electorate to decide what is right and wrong; the BNP received less than 2% of the vote in the last UK General Elections.
Fringe organisations like this will always exist, and by denying their rights we are merely fuelling their intolerance and sense of injustice. A well-educated and active electorate is a far greater defence against fascism than censorship. If we deny funding and political rights to them, where then do we draw the line? Do right wing parties have the right to deny funding to the left, or vice-versa?
At its heart, this issue rests with finding a balance between protecting free speech and the rights of all; and condemning those who seek to restrict those of others. The power to decide what is and isn’t an acceptable political party, allegiance or stance should lie firmly with the people and not with any one specific governing body. That, after all is how democracy is meant to work; governments are ruled and directed by their people, not the other way around.