‘Matter of principle’: The Left’s Walter Baier slams von der Leyen for overtures to far right

Established parties are abandoning moral principles by embracing the far right’s discourse on migration, the lead candidate for The Left told Euronews.

Walter Baier, the lead candidate for The Left, has called on Ursula von der Leyen – the outgoing European Commission president who’s tipped to secure a second term – to bear in mind the “huge responsibility” she carries in her overtures to hard-right parties.

Speaking in an interview with Euronews on Thursday, Baier censured von der Leyen for what he described as a fear-driven willingness to partner with hard-line right-wing parties following June’s European elections.

“Come on, this is a matter of principle. Having given up on this idea of a cordon sanitaire, that is a huge responsibility,” Baier said, referring to the firewall that has traditionally stopped mainstream parties from cosying up to far-right partners.

He pinpointed the “fear” of mainstream parties to “confront” extremists as the main reason for the surge in support for far-right parties ahead of June’s crunch vote.

Last month, von der Leyen opened herself to future collaboration between her centre-right EPP group and the nationalist, right-wing ECR group – which includes Spain’s Vox, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia – but specified that a partnership “depends very much on how the composition of the Parliament is, and who is in what group.”

The outgoing president and sources in her inner circle say they would only build bridges with pro-Ukraine and pro-EU partners within the ECR group, such as Fratelli d’Italia and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s ODS party.

It has prompted the parliament’s centrist and left-leaning groups, including Baier’s far-left faction, to sign a declaration vowing to “never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level.”

But on Wednesday, Geert Wilders’ far-right party struck a four-way coalition government deal in the Netherlands with liberals who belong to the Renew Europe group, controversially just days after the group signed the pledge to isolate such far-right partners.

Baier, who hails from the Austrian communist party and who was picked to lead the Left’s European lists despite being unknown on the EU stage and not running himself for a seat, says that the migration agenda is a prime example of how von der Leyen’s centre-right is normalising the far-right and allowing it to march into the mainstream.

“The most recent proof for this is the migration pact now decided on in the European Parliament and in the European Council, which actually is the negation of the individual right of asylum,” he said in reference to the EU’s New Pact on migration and Asylum rubber-stamped this week.

“It’s nothing but legitimising what the far right is saying, and it’s wrong. It’s strategically wrong. It’s morally, wrong. Strategically it’s wrong, because it means embracing the discourse of the far right. And what (about) the humanist aspect? It simply is a shame,” he added.

The Pact, agreed after years of bitter infighting, was opposed by far-right parties who said it was not robust enough to drive down migration numbers, and by the far-left who decried it for infringing the fundamental rights of migrants.

Far-right parties are on the march across Europe and tipped to win the vote in around seven member states, including Baier’s native Austria, where the populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is polling at a staggering 28%.

“This is a corrupt party, it is a neo-fascist party, but it is treated as if it was a normal party, and that’s fundamentally wrong,” Baier said. “They are not normal parties.”

Despite a brewing discontent with the political centre-ground – fuelled by soaring prices and increasing global instability – far-left parties are not luring in voters in the same way as their far-right rivals. The European Left is currently projected to win just 32 seats in June’s ballot, losing seven lawmakers and remaining the hemicycle’s smallest faction.

‘Double standards’ on Gaza

Von der Leyen has also damaged the EU’s reputation on the world stage with her unwavering stance of solidarity with Israel during its war in Gaza, Baier said.

“Her behaviour is typical of the double standards,” he explained. “It’s inadequate (…) and it’s also not honest.”

“To (accuse) everybody who is critical of the current Israeli government of being an anti-Semite, it’s wrong, it’s unjust, it’s unfair. It’s against history and it’s against reason. So generally speaking, she dealt (with it) very badly.”

“These kinds of double standards discredit the European Union in the Global South,” he added.

Whilst von der Leyen has been harshly criticised for her reluctance to urge Israeli restraint in Gaza, she has made it clear that an assault on the southern Gazan town of Rafah – where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering from war – would be a red line and come with consequences.

But Baier says empty words are not “credible” without concrete measures.

Ireland and Spain, whose governments are like-minded on the war in Gaza despite coming from different political efforts, have urged Brussels to re-open its trade agreement with Israel – the so-called Association Agreement – in a bid to exert pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to refrain from its operations in the besieged Gaza Strip.

However, such proposals have consistently failed to secure the unanimous backing of all 27 EU member states.

“We have to stop this,” Baier pleaded. “We should not talk about words and, and quarrel about words. We should focus on ending these men and women’s slaughter in Gaza.”

We need ‘ceasefire’ in Ukraine

The lead candidate also trod a fine line on the war in Ukraine, saying the bloc should do everything to bolster Kyiv’s efforts to withstand the Russian aggression whilst all the while calling for a broad demilitarisation in Europe.

“The member states of the European Union spent €270 billion on armament (in 2023). Compare it with the armament expenditure of Russia, for example, which is about €100bn, and they are in war,” Baier argued.

“So, I mean, nobody can say that we are not sufficiently equipped. And we are asking, is it enough or not? We have 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world, which would allow (us) to destroy the world 150 times (over),” he went on. “Is it enough or is it not enough?”

While agreeing Ukraine has a right to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity, he also supported the prospect of sitting around the table to negotiate peace with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We think now it is time to create the conditions for peace, starting negotiations, a ceasefire and to arrive to a sovereign and secure Ukraine with political means,” he explained.

“Because it’s obvious that on the battlefield, the solution cannot be found anymore.”

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Categories: Israel, Politics
Anton Nieuwenhuizen

Written by:Anton Nieuwenhuizen All posts by the author

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