DUP MP Gregory Campbell and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar offered very different analyses of the state of the European Union during a debate on Brexit at Féile an Phobail.
The East Derry MP argued the European Union leadership was intransigent and wanted to push for ever greater federalisation. He claimed this was fuelling the rise of the populist hard right.
But Mr. Varadkar disagreed and said gains for the Greens and the liberal Renew Europe block were evidence of support for ‘centrist’ parties.
Mr. Campbell said: “Europe doesn’t seem to get the message that people don’t like the political project that is the EU. People resent and resile from that. That’s a bad place to start.”
Mr. Varadkar replied: “I don’t fully accept this narrative that there was a swing towards populism and the right. Actually the Greens did better across Europe than the far right did and they had a good result too.
"We saw, for example, in the UK, the Brexit Party doing no better than UKIP did, and the Front National [sic] in France doing no better than they did the time before.
“There is once again a pro-European majority in the European Parliament. That’s why we were able to elect the team of leaders that we did very recently and it was also the highest turn out in the European elections for a very long time.
"People turned out in big numbers not to vote for populists and the hard right but actually to vote for the centrist parties and we actually saw that here in NI.”
Mr. Campbell was not convinced and responded: “When you look at Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), 20 years ago no-one would have conceived of 15 per cent of Germany of all nations going down that route. Nobody would have conceived of a hard right government in Italy - not just a party growing in strength but actually holding the reigns of power.
“So while you can look at other countries and say, ‘Well, the hard right have just about held their own or increased a little bit’, I think you have to accept the far right has grown considerably.”