By Patrick Wintour/The Guardian
London, December 24: European parliamentary elections in June could be as fateful as the US presidential race, the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has warned, saying he believes voters’ fear of the unknown may lead them to back rightwing populist parties.
“I am afraid of fear, I am afraid Europeans vote because they are afraid. It’s scientifically proven that fear in the face of the unknown and uncertainty generates a hormone that calls for a security response. This is a fact,” Borrell told the Guardian.
Borrell was reviewing the current state of the European Union project at the turn of a year caught between two wars, one in Ukraine and another in Gaza. a lecture given at a summit organised by Le Grand Continent magazine he said both conflicts threatened the future of the bloc, and in the case of Ukraine he said he feared defeat unless there was a rapid change of course. He said he saw no sign that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was willing to stop, or even settle for an agreement that let Russia retain eastern Ukraine.
On Gaza he said Hamas was not just a military force but an idea – and, as such, it could only be defeated by better ideas, not bombs alone.
Borrell’s remarks come amid gains by rightwing parties across the continent, apparently driven by concerns about migration and squeezed living standards.
The EU’s external affairs commissioner said: “We are invaded by a media world of threats where we learn about the daily crimes of evil or war, and it creates a hormonal activity directed by fear.
“Parties that can play on fear in human beings and offer bad responses to good questions can attract the support from the European population.”
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He accepted there are both real and perceived reasons to be concerned, but urged voters to back political forces that can present a lucid analysis of the situation. “If we cannot do that, I think the European elections will be as dangerous as those in the US.”
He said Europe still offered an attractive model for people from around the world.
“We are a magnet for hundreds of thousands of people who want to come to live in Europe. And it’s easy to understand why when we compare our standard of living. We are the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity, and social cohesion that humankind has been able to create.”
But he also warned that the European Union’s existence was at stake in Ukraine.
“Maybe this is the moment in which we have to look at the danger coming from a great power which threatens our democracy, which threatens Europe itself, not only Ukraine. And if we don’t change course rapidly, if we don’t mobilise all our capacities, it will let Putin win the war in Ukraine. Similarly If we are not able to stop the tragedy which is happening in Gaza, I think our project will be very much damaged.
“The important thing is what we can do in order to avoid Russia winning the war. What are we ready to do? Are we really ready to do everything it takes? This is the question that we have to put ourselves…
“Putin cannot be satisfied with a piece of Ukraine and to let the rest of Ukraine belong to the European Union, but he cannot be satisfied with a limited territorial victory. He will not give up the war, especially not before the American election, which may present him with a much more favourable scenario. So we must prepare for a conflict of high intensity for a long time,” Borrell said.
“Putin has decided to continue the war until the final victory,” he said.
“[Russia’s] success is dependent on bringing to the battlefield as many people as they can. They have at this time the greatest number of deaths, of casualties in the battlefield, in the presence of the human reserve. There were 150,000 people massed on the Ukrainian border in February. There are 450,000 now so three times more.”
At the same time he said Putin “had been wrong about the capacity of his army. He was wrong about the capacity of the Ukrainian resistance. He was wrong about the will of the European Union. He was wrong about the strength of the transatlantic alliance. But he is still there. He is still willing to fight, to let his people die, so that his army and his people suffer, because he has no reverse.”
He claimed: “Russia has never been able to become a nation. It was always an empire with the tsar, with the Soviets, and now with Putin. It is a constant of Russia, and its political identity, and as a result a threat to his neighbours – and particularly to us.”