JERUSALEM: The European Union has failed once again. Its total impotence to prevent war near the heart of Europe was amply proved in Bosnia and Kosovo over the last decade. Now the European Union has once again failed to respond to the challenge posed by the Haider phenomenon in Austria. By lifting the half-hearted sanctions imposed by the 14 members of the EU on Austria in February, any talk about Europe standing for a community of values sounds even more hollow than ever before.
In the case of Bosnia and Kosovo, Brussels proved itself to be totally irrelevant and impotent when the use of force – or the threat of the use of force – was concerned. Fine words and mellifluous phrases filled many documents – but when Vukovar was destroyed, Dubrovnik shelled, Sarajevo besieged for years and then the horrible mass murders in Srebrenica occurred – all that the European Union was able to muster were more words and self-righteous indignation. But then one could argue that the European Union was not a military alliance. In the end, it proved that – of all people – Machiavelli was right when he argued that even prophets need to be armed in order to be effective: the moral imperative not to allow another genocide-like development in Europe needed the NATO’s armaments to be effective. The European Union continued to produce words.
When it came to Austria, however, there was a feeling that since this was not a military, but a purely political and moral situation, Brussels – and the Continent-wide political clout signified by it – would be able to prove efficient. Alas, it failed as dismally as the League of Nations failed in the l930's.
Let us revisit what the issue was and still is: in the heart of Europe – and in a country burdened by the political ideologies which gave rise to Hitler, himself an Austrian – Jörg Haider and his party revived the political discourse of xenophobia, racism and visceral anti-foreign sentiment. It is true that democracies always find it difficult to balance their commitment to human rights with their commitment to free speech: it is a delicate path to tread, and there is no easy answer on a legal and constitutional level. Yet the issue is not legal or constitutional – it is political. To preserve democracy and human rights, democratic parties have realized that the most effective ways to confront racist and xenophobic parties is to marginalize and exclude them – to treat them as beyond the pale as potential partners for government.