A right-wing Member of the European Parliament launches a highly-changed attack on the newly appointed President. What was the intention behind the speech? What might be its consequences?
The BBC reported the speech [Feb 26th 2010] as follows:
A British Eurosceptic MEP has unleashed a volley of insults against the President of the European Council. Nigel Farage, who leads UK Independence Party (UKIP) MEPS in the European parliament, said Herman van Rompuy had “the charisma of a damp rag”. He compared the former Belgian prime minister to a “low-grade bank clerk” and said he came from a “non-country”. The attack, which stunned the chamber, came as Mr Von Rompuy made his maiden appearance in parliament in Brussels. “I don’t want to be rude,” Mr Farage began, before launching into a personal attack lasting several minutes. “Who are you? I’d never heard of you, nobody in Europe had ever heard of you,” Mr Farage thundered, as noisy disapproval at his intervention in the chamber rose.
In the absence of further information, the BBC’s description appears to be of a politician who lost control of his emotions. Or maybe, this was a calculated political gesture. If so, we have to ask what particular political game was being played by Mr Farage.
It is hard to see how the speech might influence anyone among the assembled representatives. It starts making sense when Mr Farage’s declared intentions are taken into account. He is there as a declared opponent to the Parliament. Mr Farage argues that the entire European set-up is designed to stifle the independence of member states. The majority of the assembly would take the view that for all its bungling bureaucracy, the EU is attempting to promote a European-wide democratic system through economic and political means. To which Mr Farage argued
“I have no doubt that your intention is to be the quiet assassin of European democracy and of European nation states,” Mr Farage’s party, UKIP, campaigns for the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. It has 13 representatives in the European parliament. “You seem to have a loathing for the very concept of the existence of nation states,” Mr Farage continued, adding: “Perhaps that’s because you come from Belgium, which is pretty much a non-country.”
What’s Mr Farage up to?
Maybe he hopes to capture more followers through a charismatic leadership style in which he places great store. It is too easy to point to various right-wing dictatorial leaders who favoured such a style. After all, some of the great left-wing demagogues also favoured the style.
It is likely that his intention is focused outside the hall to electorates, and to opinion-brokers of electorates, particularly in the UK.
Does it matter?
Does his speech matter? Or, put another way, will Mr Farage achieve his leadership goals? UKPs natural constituency in the United Kingdom is made up of disaffected Conservatives. The party seems to be attracting more voters than its closest competitor, the BNP as its anti-Europeanism nationalism is presented with less wriggling about its stance on racial equality. But in the run-in to the upcoming national elections, the electoral distaste for the major parties may be, like the economy, showing as bumping along in a trough, but not obviously dipping ever deeper.
Perhaps a more serious challenge for the newly-elected Parliament will be less about Mr Farage, less about high-profile leadership, and more about consensus. There is increasing talk of a hung parliament after a May general election.