BRUSSELS — The EU was “scared” of Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon during the European parliamentary election in 2019 — but those fears are gone ahead of the 2024 ballot, European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová said.
Referring to Bannon’s attempts to form a “club” to support far-right populists such as the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen in the run-up to the last EU-wide election, Jourová said Brussels was genuinely concerned his ideas would take off.
“We were scared by Steve Bannon organizing the pan-European campaign comprising Mr. Wilders, Madame Le Pen, and all the rest — finding everywhere useful partners and willing collaborators,” Jourová told journalists at a gathering on Thursday night.
“It was a combination still of the effect of the migration crisis, of terrorism, and Trump,” Jourová said. “It was also the Cambridge Analytica case” — revelations that the infamous British data analytics firm had illegally accessed people’s social media data to target them in a number of elections and was linked to Trump’s successful 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. “It was also the time of rising disinformation, targeted disinformation campaigns — these were things which were relatively new for us.”
Bannon, “with his simplified vision of Europe, could easily trigger something, which the others who know Europe could use as a platform. This was my fear,” Jourová said. But, “it didn’t happen. And I believe that now it will be a similar thing.”
Jourová, who is the European commissioner for values and transparency, said she believed Russia’s war on Ukraine would see Europeans make safe bets in the 2024 election, during which citizens in the EU’s 27 member countries will vote to elect the members of the European Parliament.
“I don’t think there will be a rise of extremist parties — far right or left,” Jourová said. “Because the people now see, especially in the time of crisis, it’s not the time for experiments.”
Asked whether the revelations of corruption and influence-buying by countries such as Qatar and Morocco in the European Parliament would drive extremist sentiment in the ballot, Jourová said it was “hard to say,” as the election was still a year away.
But, she added, “if I take a broader picture, when people see the politicians in jail, there are two kinds of instincts: ‘They are all rotten, they are all bad, we knew it.’ But then when the people see the system works, and when cases of corruption are closed and people are punished, I think that paradoxically, such scandal can even increase the trust of people in democratic institutions.”