The recent European parliament elections seem a remote event to most people outside the EU, but this time around it might contain a lesson or two for America as well.
The usual election-eve dread of the ultranationalist bogeyman proved overdrawn this time; their slight gains won’t disturb anyone’s sleep for a while. And the center-left lost its majority coalition, but not to the far-right.
Who, then, did win the European parliamentary elections?
“The Greens and the Liberals were the winners of the day,” Sweden’s former prime minister and foreign minister Carl Bildt told NPR, adding that far-right gains were “fairly marginal,” and were less than had been predicted.
That’s true, according to the bare numbers. But the real winner did not even appear on the ballot. For the real winner was: Russia.
This is not about Russian interference in Western democracies, though there probably was some of that. EU investigators found evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign using phony online political groups (we’ve been there). For example, a bid to ramp up continental discord by rumoring that the Notre-Dame fire was caused by Islamic terrorists.
How much this malicious chatter actually pushed up right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment is not known. What is clear, though, is that the Russian bear gained significantly in other ways, without lifting a paw, thanks to the Greens.
The Greens continued to improve their standing at the polls, especially in France, Germany and the U.K. They have outgrown their early image as a fringe protest movement, having attained respectability after working for years in various governing coalitions. In Germany, they are now the second biggest political party.
And as the Guardian newspaper notes, “they have consolidated a manifesto that puts social justice and human rights at the heart of the fight for the planet, drawing in voters disillusioned with mainstream center-left parties.”
This will mean, of course, that measures to counter climate change will have a smoother path to passage, and the leftward lean of European politics will become even more pronounced.
But it means something else, too. Environmentally friendly policies, it turns out, are also Russia-friendly policies. Not that the Greens are in cahoots with the Kremlin, but getting rid of coal and eschewing nuclear power will mean that Europe will have to look for a supplier of natural gas. For that, it will have to look to Russia.
(In this development lies a deep irony. Russia, especially in the Soviet era, has been an unchecked despoiler of the environment, and yet it now appears likely to capitalize on the West’s crusade to save the environment.)
Increased dependence on Russian gas will inevitably induce a pro-Moscow tilt. Thus, the greening of the European left translates into “a huge victory for Russia,” in the words of policy-planning expert Jakub Grygiel, writing in the conservative American Interest.
Furthermore, Grygiel writes, “a ‘greener’ EU will weaken Europe. As Europe cuts its emissions, hostile powers are making it more dependent … The Greens claim they are concerned with global challenges, but in effect they are turning Europe into the weakest link in a rapidly accelerating great power competition.”
Critics of green policies usually focus — correctly — on the prohibitive cost of crash programs to convert economies from dirty fuels to clean.
In the United States, the debate over the Green New Deal is all about the stupendous price tag; the chat is in the multi-trillions.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has guesstimated that to do all it’s supposed to do — fight climate change, expand the social safety net and stimulate the economy — would cost at least $10 trillion.
She concedes it’s “a ton,” and “people are going to call it unrealistic,” but insists there’s no choice. It’s either that or the end of the world — or at least a 10 percent drop in GDP. “I just don’t think people understand how bad the problem is,” she said.
Some people think it will cost more than a ton. It would amount to between $51 trillion and $93 trillion over 10 years, according to the center-right policy American Action Forum. That includes between $8.3 trillion and $12.3 trillion for a total carbon cleanout, and between $42.8 trillion and $80.6 trillion for jobs and health care for all.
Unlike in Europe, natural gas deposits in North America are such that Russia will have no stake in this. But political ramifications there certainly would be.
American Action Forum warns that “its further expansion of the federal government’s role in some of the most basic decisions of daily life … would likely have a more lasting and damaging impact than its enormous price tag.”
In other words, the result would be a regulatory dystopia. GND would give the government unprecedented control of the means of production and marketing, beyond even anything Franklin Roosevelt, of the original New Deal, dared hope for.
The potential economy-wrecking impact of the GND could weaken the U.S. to a point where it would be incapable of continuing in its role of superpower guardian of freedom and free economies. Another huge victory for Russia … and China, too.