Is the outcome of last weekend's European Parliament elections a surprise? More than 400 million voters in 28 countries of the EU went to the polls to elect their new representatives, and on Sunday night we saw a trailer of what is coming soon for Europe. Now in France, Italy and across parts of central and Eastern Europe, nationalists, anti-establishment parties, including far-right, far-left populists and the Greens, cemented their hold over the voting in the European Parliament. The center-right and center-left wings of the member states are trying to console themselves saying that the result is not as dominant as the their opponents hoped; however, one would have to be blind to not see where the continent is heading now, as the EU is becoming increasingly fragmented.
Even though the elected 751-seat parliament is not the top decision body, the new pattern will certainly influence certain internal policies of the union where the fear of a possibility of a collapse already began years ago. While the outcome has the threatening look of a whole new level of political instability in the bloc, the national elections that took place in EU countries over the past few years were already signaling an increasing number of euroskeptic voters in the union as well as a growing populism and polarization among the Europeans. The outcome has also gauged the political tendencies of the EU population for those who have been in ivory towers for years who didn't see that the illusion of the establishment was about to be dissolved, and it has confirmed the signs we saw long ago. As with various national elections where populists either won or gained significant numbers of seats in their parliaments, this EU election has also demonstrated that populism has now become a formidable force and unavoidable future for European politics.
The anti-Islam excuse
Analyzing the early results of elections, the weakening position of traditional, mainstream, centrist political parties, Turkish analysts are now concerned about the future of Turkey-EU dialogues, which have witnessed testing moments in the last couple of years. I believe it is too early to comment on Turkey-EU relations; however, we can say that the EU will be more isolated from the rest of the world and it will be working on its internal disputes.
I mean, what can we expect after Marine Le Pen's National Rally (formerly the National Front) won the most votes in France (23%) and Matteo Salvini's League Party emerged on top of the polls in Italy with 34%? Salvini and Le Pen look like the future of Europe. That is why Turkey is a target in the mouths of populist parties that are trying to carry themselves to a higher level of power. But it would not be good for the traditional centrist members of the EU to continue to fight with Turkey if they don't want to see a darker future on the continent.
In addition to that, Turkey's relations with the bloc can live a bit longer. But when you look at Turkish-British relations after Brexit, you can see that Turkey is establishing better dialogue with European countries on a state-to-state basis. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Turks living in Europe. Spreading Islamophobic rhetoric and hatred toward Turkey, the populists have resurrected Europe's oldest monster that will attack the "others" of Europe. Centrist parties have just watched this coming, and by getting help from the mainstream media, they have even joined the chorus to protect their votes. The current result was inevitable.
By carrying Ankara's predictions about the future of Europe to this column, I have made many warnings since 2014 about the far-right continuing to rise and the EU was indeed on the brink of a collapse. Neither Brexit nor U.S. President Donald Trump's victory was the last. Being unfair to Turkey or Muslims around the world in terms of terror and democracy and spreading false accusations against Islam using the notorious terror organization Daesh as a useful tool, they were all already at risk in the West and yet, unfortunately, the arrogant leaders of the EU were always blind to what is coming.
The consequences of Neglect
I don't want to say that they deserved to get into hot water, but the "wise leaders" of the EU didn't think of the outcome of ignoring the ongoing civil war in Syria as well as the unrest in the Middle East and Africa, which has resulted in a huge refugee influx that enormously helped the populists spread their propaganda. They failed to hear all the warnings until desperate people appeared on their doorsteps. Then they understood that the EU, which was once a dream for every continent, was about to collapse.
Remember the days when arrogant EU leaders resorted to sitting at the table with Turkey in a panic. In exchange for the EU's backdating of visa-free travel for Turkey's citizens, Turkey was to take back Syrian refugees heading to Europe. The EU immediately started to ship back refugees under the pact, but there has still been no progress over visa-free travel. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel and some others tried to show the deal with Turkey as a great example and implement a similar project for Africa, it was too little and too late. Today, Italy's government is on the way to issue a decree to fine refugee boats up to 5,500 euros ($6,125) for each refugee they disembark onto Italian soil.
As was obvious, the panic caused by the refugee crisis and some terror attacks in Europe that were linked to Daesh brought measures including limitations to freedoms and rights, which consequently impacted freedom of movement in the EU. Some EU skeptics started to defend national sovereignty more than ever, using border security issues and protectionism as an excuse. And in 2016 the fears started to come true. The U.K. decided to leave the EU in a referendum, which many fear will trigger a domino effect for the rest of the bloc. Concurrently, the Americans chose to abandon Barack Obama's legacy, which was totally wrong, and picked Donald Trump. Trump's victory was a shock for the EU, but only for those who couldn't see what was coming. It was crystal clear that perpetual failures in Middle Eastern politics, which led to a rise in Islamophobia and xenophobia in the West, has increased racist rhetoric during election periods. Additionally, the huge influx of refugees would make things worse, combined with economic difficulties in the union, and anti-refugee, anti-EU, xenophobic radicals would gain enormous popularity.
In addition, the Ukrainian crisis made Eastern European countries' focus on the perceived threat from Russia. Eastern Europe as well as the U.K. and Scandinavia had big concerns about Russia, but the Russia issue didn't bother the rest, such as Germany, which is the largest economy in Europe. So it wouldn't be wrong to say that it is also a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been accused of meddling in Western elections in the last couple of years as well as the populists of Europe.
Grim future for the EU
It looks like the EU will no longer be a safe haven that talks about democracy, human rights and freedom, and it will be unable to solve its fundamental problems that make EU citizens more and more xenophobic and euroskeptic every day. EU structures, including the pricing of the euro, freedom of movement and many European regulations, are designed to facilitate one single policy for all. But no single policy can suit all of Europe. This has been the core problem from the beginning, but it has now reached an extreme point. Today, what is good for one European country is bad for another. That is why the populist trend in Europe will continue. The EU might survive in some sense, but even so, some states will try to leave the EU like the U.K, which means we can see Italexit or Frexit or something else. Some states might stay, but this will not be the EU we know of. In the next couple of years, we will see the re-emergence of nation-states as the primary political vehicle on the continent. And at the end of the day, the EU will definitely be modified.