After European leaders agreed to create the European Monetary Union (EMU) in the late 1990s, the European Council in Brussels established a competition among graphic artists to design the new currency. The competition protocol requested that euro bills have non-specific images that might suggest any venue that appeared generically European. The coins were the exception. One side of the coins would have the denomination; the other side would have an easily recognizable national symbol.
The design schizophrenia built into the euro coins is manifest in the political dimensions of the European sovereign debt crisis. The struggle between national interest and plans to conserve the EMU plagues ongoing attempts to adjudicate the full blown crisis that emerged in 2010 when Greece began to head towards default.
In this climate of economic volatility, European right nationalist parties and their ideas have gained increased political traction and notable electoral successes. Even in Sweden, a right populist party, the Swedish Democrats, received 5.7% of the vote making it eligible for a seat in the Congress. In the April 2011 Finnish legislative elections, the right nationalist True Finn Party came in third place and achieved the same percentage of votes as the Finnish Social Democrats. A resistance to bailing out defaulting EMU members and a general antipathy to Europe unites diverse right parties. The economic events that constitute the crisis have made it legitimate for nationalist politicians to argue that Europe is a dangerous economic and political project. Exit from the eurozone is the cornerstone of French National Front leader, Marine Le Pen’s current campaign for the presidency.
During this period, nationalist rhetoric and policy proposals have become part of center right, and in some instances left, political discourse. In October 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a gathering of the youth members of the Christian Democratic Union party that Germany’s attempt to build a multicultural society had “failed, utterly failed.”
Normalization of the right is the term that I develop to capture the twin phenomena of the electoral surge of the European right and the mainstreaming of nationalist ideas and practices. The normalization of the right has evolved in tandem with the global financial crisis.
In Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times (Rorotoko interview), I argued that expanding Europeanization which included the EMU posed a security threat to the ordinary citizen that fueled the electoral salience and public visibility of right political parties.
By security, I meant the perception and, for the most part, fact that persons felt safe in their political, social, economic and cultural environment. Security shaped the contours of everyday life in post-war Europe. Through the end of the last century, national institutions from unions to political parties to citizenship requirements served as guarantees of practical security for ordinary Europeans. The expanded European Union which favors market competition and supports multicultural inclusion was never popular among those who benefited most from the solidarity and identity that the national state guaranteed.
The sovereign debt crisis underscores the nationalist sentiments that have always lurked in the interstices of the European project. Europe writ large is facing the contradictions inscribed in the two faces of the euro coins.
Europe appears to be heading towards another weak economic year with a possible recession on the way. Citizens have taken to the streets of just about every European capital to protest austerity measures. As of January 1, 2012, the center right Hungarian Prime Minister has pushed through a new Constitution whose preamble evokes 19th century ethno-nationalism.
A collective sense of insecurity is pervasive in Europe today. Collective insecurity weakens the social largesse that forms the core of democratic sentiment and normalizes ideas that many Europeans previously viewed as unacceptable. How these forces will play out politically remains to be seen.
Mabel Berezin earned her Ph.D. at Harvard and is Associate Professor of Sociology at Cornell. Her book, _Making the Fascist Self: The Political Culture of Inter-war Italy_ (Cornell 1997), received the J. David Greenstone Prize for Best Book of 1996-1997 in Politics and History from the American Political Science Association, and was named an “Outstanding Academic Book” by _Choice_. She is the editor, with Martin Schain, of _Europe Without Borders: Re-mapping Territory, Citizenship and Identity in a Transnational Age_ (Johns Hopkins 2004). Berezin has been awarded fellowships from the Leverhulme Trust, the American Sociological Association Fund for Advancement of the Discipline, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the European University Institute.