On Valentine’s Day 2017, Demos, self-proclaimed “leading cross-party think-tank in Britain, which produces original research, publish innovative thinkers and host thought-provoking events,” published a study into the love European citizens feel for its politicians. The title is both long and revealing (PDF): “Mapping and responding to the rising culture and politics of fear in the European Union; Nothing to fear but fear itself?” But while Demos might ‘feel the love’, European citizens do not. When holding a survey on levels of trust in political institutions, Demos found “strikingly low levels of trust.” When asked to mark their level of trust on a scale from 0 to 10, more than half of respondents from all over Europe reported having low levels of trust (0-4) in the European Commission.
Beyond reporting what has been painfully obvious for some time, however, the Demos report’s political inclinations obscure the possibility of gaining any real insight into the material under scrutiny. The report is full of high-minded rhetoric, that falls flat on closer examination, like the opening of the Introduction:
“There is a spectre haunting Europe: a culture of fear that is finding its form and asserting its growing influence in myriad ways. This is a fear of the unknown: a fear of the other, a fear of the future. Its political consequences have been shown most starkly in the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and the electoral success of authoritarian governments in central Europe. However, fear is also taking hold of the politics of other European nations, marked by the growing success of other ‘populist’ right-wing and Eurosceptic parties, including the Front National, Alternative für Deutschland, and the Swedish Democrats, as well as the rise of street movements such as the anti-Islamic Pegida. This new populist politics is having tangible effects on national public policy, through tighter border controls, the erosion of liberal freedoms and so-called ‘welfare chauvinism’, where social security eligibility is made ever-stricter. Its social impact can be seen in the increasingly nativist and ‘othering’ discourse in the public realm, the disintegration of civil society and declining social trust, and the resurgence of exclusive national and regional identities.”
Right of the bat, the report posits a far-reaching claim, for which it offers no proof. A “culture of fear” no less, a “fear of the unknown“, which is then described as “a fear of the other, a fear of the future.” It sounds grand, but it signifies nothing. It is the same old story that has been told a thousand times already: everything not in line with current policies, everyone with an alternative vision is depicted as being inspired by fear. Is it really only fear that leads the governments of Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway to instigate border checks? Are they all lead by ‘populist governments’? Surely then the EU Commission is too, by allowing them?
Really Demos, there is nothing beyond the “culture of fear” that somehow, magically sprung up within Europe, to explain the need for border security? Or are you really arguing there is no need for border security in Europe? There have been no terrorist attacks, we are not facing “[the] most serious terrorist threat in ten years“?
The Demos report, of course, does mention terrorism:
“Against a backdrop of an ever-present threat of terrorism, it is not surprisingly that many leaders are themselves embodying the fear of their citizens in hardening security and migration practices. (…) However, the response to the migration crisis also reflects fears more related to a sense of erosion of cultural and social identity. Some governments, with the notable exception of Germany, have refused to take large numbers of refugees, in part due to the fear of losing support to populist parties.”
And that is it. The threat of terrorism – and not, you know, the actual Jihadist terrorism that has cost hundreds of Europeans their lives in the last two years – leads “to leaders embodying the fear of their citizens“. Not taking measures to prevent attacks and protect their citizens, in other words, doing their bloody jobs, no, “embodying the fear of their citizens.” You really have to be a highly educated to be this special kind of stupid.