Clashes between English and Russian football fans at the European football championships are symptomatic of a growing tide of European-wide nationalism thanks to the increasing inequality and alienation of these groups on both domestic and international levels. As an EU referendum approaches, British voters should consider the far-reaching ideological knock-on effects of a Brexit on Europe and its implications for European-wide security in an increasingly uncertain world. Only a united and more homogenous European Union can guide more harmonious paths towards greater equality and long-term stability – but comprising states will have to listen to their electorates first.
Nationalism is gradually rising across Europe thanks to an increase in alienated groups that stem from growing disparities in wealth. This has been seen recently in Austria, where the main far-right nationalist candidate lost by a mere 31,000 votes, receiving much of their support from a increasingly underepresented working class base. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front made big advances in regional elections and Britain’s UKIP won 3.8 million votes in the 2015 elections, both parties receiving votes from other alienated segments of society who also feel they have no voice – who see poor immigrants and crime as threats to their continued well-being. This state of affairs is widespread across Europe and the negative implications for European cohesion that may follow should not be underestimated.
NATIONALISM IN BRITAIN – IMPLICATIONS OF BREXIT
The English are somewhat at odds with themselves as they struggle over defining their own national identity. Do they want a future in or out of the European Union? Issues of disenfranchisement at home are key to this debate and it is easy to see why nationalism is growing and expressing itself through mainly working class football fans. The working class are left out to dry as issues of inequality are not addressed seriously by politicians, whilst they and other alienated groups, also express concern about uncontrolled immigration and crime, looking towards Brexit to solve these problems.
The referendum result has the potential to go either way towards a Brexit or EU remain outcome. Yet, several polls have indicated that a late swing towards Brexit may be occurring, despite a campaign by the reigning Prime Minister to stay in. Various elites have shamelessly vouched their bets over whether their companies will be more profitable in or out of Europe, ensuring that the British media publish a variety of views from both perspectives. The failure of an elite consensus over the potential economic results of Brexit ensures that there is resultantly no consensus between the press or British citizens either.
This division between and across Britain’s ruling political and economic elites has led to a dangerous cross-roads between peace or strife in Europe. A Brexit is possible, and with this, too, is the potential for an eventual EU break up in to factional rivalries. The current nationalistic climate across Europe in conjunction with the knock-on effects of a strong Britain leaving the EU, could encourage other states such as Holland to also leave and join them in an alliance that would damage joint funding for extending European hegemony to former Soviet satellites. This would no doubt heighten the rise of inequality and nationalism across Eastern Europe as a weaker EU fails to appeal to those states who may begin to feel like second class citizens, as less European funds head their way, and who feel threatened or enamoured by Russian nationalism.
SECURING EASTERN EUROPE
In order to keep Eastern states under the European flag, it would be necessary to ensure that citizens feel they’ve been given a fair deal. To encourage this feeling of fairness, in-flows of capital would have to be kept high, and fears of security would have to be mitigated by allowing an influx of funds that would provide military strength. This would add additional pressures to the remaining cluster of EU states after a Brexit. Other potential future pressures may also have to be taken into account. The negative perception of a US military presence in some European states, and the potential electoral victory of unpredictable wildcard Presidential candidate Donald Trump, may yet change EU military interactions as the Europe-NATO relationship may weaken across the continent, putting further pressures on European states to increase their own defence budgets.
All-in-all, these pressures could further affect nationalist sentiments at home in Western Europe, as states fail to cough up funds for their own social welfare programs because of having to divert extra funds to replace those lost from leaving members that previously went to less technologically advanced states. This would create further inequality and nationalistic tendencies at home. Yet, an intact EU could avoid these outcomes and also encourage the horizontal homogenisation of responses to inequality in order to ensure that these choices were not too disparate enough from one another along the Left-Right spectrum to foster unresolvable ideological clashes that could lead to more states seceding from the Union.
These factors are compounded by a range of foreign policy choices by the United States and European countries that have isolated Russia. As Western elites have expanded their imperial sphere of influence further to the East and cemented former Soviet satellites into the EU and NATO realm, the impact of this drive has damaged the systems of prestige of those Russian citizens who link their identity to nationalism and who have also seen inequality rise in their homeland. Recent military victories such as the annexation of Crimea and the continued stability of Assad’s regime have further heightened nationalist sentiments. Western expansion and inequality can therefore be personal to negatively afflicted citizens, and this is partly why we see a rise of football hooliganism in France this month. Events such as those in Marseilles bring these factors to a climax. Whilst tackling inequality and remaining united, Europe must therefore distance itself from the Cold War policies of the United States and allow for better cooperation with Russia, and the US must additionally make efforts to Europeanize along with them.
Whilst we should consider the potential that some segments of the Russian hooligans seen at the England-Russia football match were lent tacit support by some State and Moscow football officials thanks to post Cold-War politicisation, we simply cannot ignore the independent rise of the far-right across all of Europe when putting our mark on that referendum ballot paper – now is not the time to leave Europe. If elites fail to tackle inequality, only a united EU will refresh the old systems of prestige that are now giving way to far-right nationalism.
Daniel Taylor is an international politics PhD researcher at City University London. He specialises in US foreign policy in South America and the roles of their respective militaries. Areas of academic interest include: elite theory, social control, state terrorism, covert activity and the causes of regime (in)stability. Email contact: Daniel.Taylor@city.ac.uk, firstname.lastname@example.org