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John Weeks: European right-wing governments prefer Obama for pragmatic reasons, but are closer to Romney in ideology

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In a recent interview on The Real News Network, Bill Black talked about Romney’s accusation that President Obama was too much of a European—implying he was somewhat of a European social democrat. And that can be argued or discussed, but Bill pointed out the irony of that, that in fact it’s Romney that’s more like the Europeans, as right-wing Europeans dominate European politics these days. And in a recent column, John Weeks, who’s a often-contributor to The Real News, talked about this upon listening or after listening to a Beethoven concert. And he now joins us from London to talk about this.

John Weeks is a professor emeritus at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. He’s the author of the book Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis. And he writes at Thanks very much for joining us, John.


JAY: Talk about the rise of the right in Europe. And maybe you could start from that moment when you’re listening to Beethoven.

WEEKS: Yes. I think that there’s a misconception about the nature of Europe. In fact, I think there’s quite a misconception about the longer-term history of Europe. There’s a very strong right-wing movement in Europe. It was interrupted by the Second World War. Most of Europe before the Second World War had very authoritarian tendencies, extremely authoritarian tendencies, of course fascism; France had authoritarian tendencies; least of all Britain, though it had a right-wing government.

Now, I’m not an advocate of the Soviet Union, but the defeat of Germany led to a international dynamic such that capitalism had to moderate itself. That moderating role is over, and I think we are back to a very strong authoritarian tendency.

In some cases it takes a tremendously vulgar form of just the rise again of the same old Nazis. So in the Baltic states you have gatherings of—well, they’re a bit young to be called original Nazis, but they are children of SS officers who are returning to meetings which are almost endorsed by the state. So, for example, in Lithuania and Estonia, the SS troops who fought against Estonians are treated as heroes. And, I mean, I could go country by country, but I think that there’s a very strong authoritarian tendency which is being strongly reinforced by the debt crisis. And I think that authoritarian tendency is manifesting itself in Germany, too.

JAY: And that has particular significance because the European, which was supposed to be this union of equals, in fact is far from that.

WEEKS: I think that the European Union, which was conceived as the vehicle to bring Greece to Europe and to prevent Germany from dominating Continental Europe, has become the vehicle by which the German government is implementing that domination. It is a sad thing, because I’m a committed European. I supported the European Union. But I think at the moment it is primarily a vehicle for German economic and political domination of Europe. It is sad to say, it is controversial to say, but I think it is true.

JAY: [Marine Le Pen] is the leader of the essentially fascist party in France that gets an electoral vote of some significance.

WEEKS: Getting very close to 20 percent. Right. So I think that the weakness of the working class makes it appear that these groups have considerable strength among the working class, because essentially the social democratic parties have failed the working class—I mean, they’ve failed us all, but they failed the working class, and certainly in Britain. I would say that it’s not completely true in the Scandinavian countries, but it’s worse than it should be. But certainly in the other large countries of Continental Europe, the social democrats have either betrayed the working class, if I can use that cliche, or they’ve actually disgraced themselves, as in the case of Spain.

JAY: To what extent is this, you know, right-wing, more openly, overtly fascist type of a motion directly encouraged by, you could say, interests within the elite?

WEEKS: This is, of course, a very [snip] sensitive area, because on a purely formal basis, or, you know, in public statements, there are very few members of the elite who would claim these thugs. So, formally, in his words, David Cameron has denounced the European far right, but in practice, the Conservative Party of Britain in the European Parliament is a member of a group—. As maybe some of your listeners and watchers know, the European Parliament has caucuses. It has a social democratic caucus, it has a Liberal caucus, it has a Christian democratic caucus, it has a conservative caucus. The U.K. Tories pulled out of the Christian democratic one because it was too pro-Europe, and they went into the conservative one, and that contains some very anti-Semitic elements, particularly from Poland. [snip] initially was an embarrassment to David Cameron. He said no, no, we’re not—we don’t have anything to do with them. But the Conservative Party continues to be in that group.

JAY: And do the right-wing governments of Europe, and to some extent the movements, but more the governments, do they care who wins the U.S. election?

WEEKS: The respectable right—so we’re talking about the Italian government and the German government and the Spanish government—I think that they’re a bit anxious about Romney because they think that he would be less supportive of the European Union as the right-wing envisions it, that he might really be very aggressively anti-Europe. So I suspect that on foreign-policy grounds, that they feel that he’s a bit too far. Ideologically I think that they’re with him. They have much the same agenda, though he’s a bit more explicit about it.

JAY: So they may be with him in terms of how they think about policy, but in terms of pure national interest, they think Romney might not be good for Europe.

WEEKS: Yeah. I think [unintel.] concrete example. The U.S. Federal Reserve has put a lot of money into the various bailout funds for the euro. Okay. I think that the European governments believe that—the right-wing governments believe that Romney would be less likely to do that. So even though they may prefer Romney in terms of his social and economic policies, they’re interested in continued support from the Federal Reserve system. And after all, the sad part of it is Obama has not been that progressive. So he’s not that far from some of these governments.

I mean, that is the—that’s what’s fundamentally under attack by the right wing in the United States and Europe, the idea that people can come together to solve a problem. That has become in the 21st century a very radical idea. So I think there’s some optimism in Spain.

JAY: We started the interview talking about you were at a Beethoven concert, and you note in your column that “Ode To Joy” is the anthem of the European Union, and you end by talking about—and I’ll ask you the question: what do you think if Beethoven were to come back and see that “Ode To Joy” is the song of this European Union?

WEEKS: Beethoven’s 19th-century biographer Schiller, who happened to write the poem that “Ode To Joy” is from, and Beethoven put it to music, wrote that Beethoven was in his studio finishing up the Fourth Symphony, which was dedicated to Napoleon—it’s the Eroica—and news came to him that Napoleon had declared himself emperor of France, and he tore off the cover page, ripped it up, and threw it away.

I think that if Beethoven were alive today, at the very least he would say, you don’t deserve to have the “Ode To Joy” as a European hymn; this is not the Europe that earned the “Ode To Joy”.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for much for joining us, John.

WEEKS: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget the “Donate” button over here, because if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.


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John Weeks is Professor Emeritus and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Policy and Research, and Research on Money and Finance Group at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.