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Rhetoric is spark that unleashes the anger

Suddenly Europe is a much nastier continent.

There is a rancid stench in the air. Understandable frustration with the people who supposedly run Europe (and spend so much of their time travelling at considerable expense backwards and forwards between Luxembourg City and Strasbourg, two exceptionally expensive cities which are utterly disconnected from the lives of most European citizens) has been festering for far too long. Now the rhetoric of plausible, populist politicians such as Nigel Farage and Marine le Pen is unleashing all the pent-up anger and it's not a pretty sight. Closet racists are creeping into the open. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that their prejudice and bile have been legitimised by the right wing politicians who are suddenly in vogue.

I don't think that Mr Farage is a racist and I'd also be prepared to give Ms le Pen, who is undoubtedly an exceptionally charismatic and highly intelligent politician, the benefit of the doubt. The problem is that their rhetoric and indeed their entire approach to politics creates a climate in which racist prejudice is liberated. Both of them articulate perfectly valid criticisms of the European Union, which at its heart is corrupt and extravagant. Ms Le Pen in particular is a demagogue of quite extraordinary power and deep popular resonance. Many of those who listen to Mr Farage and Ms le Pen are already angry. This anger is understandable and legitimate. But when it is politicised, forces which are anything but legitimate seem to become almost respectable. Suddenly the tone of our political debate descends to raw, viral prejudice.

So this rapidly developing crisis is rooted not so much in anti- immigration prejudice as in outrage at the way the European Union has developed.

The architects of what is now the EU, the two French visionaries Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, never envisaged an integrated Europe. All they wanted was to create a framework for economic cooperation between various countries, France and Germany in particular. But their project just grew and grew. As the process continued, many politicians ingenuously thought that the more Europe was "integrated" and "united", the safer we'd all be and the less racial prejudice there would be. Quite the opposite has transpired.

Happily Scotland remains an exception to the general trend, though Ukip has actually gained a seat here. But I am heartened by the Scottish Government's approach to immigration, which is to say candidly that we require immigrants to help to build our economy and that we should encourage them to come here.

In the European context it could soon get to the stage where such mature and sensible attitudes are regarded as aberrant or eccentric. Right across Europe racists are on the march. They are confident and noisy and dangerous. Some of what has been going on is disgraceful, and it's not only immigrants who have been targeted. In Greece, the vilification of Angela Merkel has been disgusting. Ironically she is the only senior European politician who is a genuine class act; although even in her Germany Turkish immigrant workers have often been treated badly

Meanwhile another convenient hate figure, Vladimir Putin, appears to be giving up on Europe and looking East. Russia is negotiating a mind-boggling mega-deal to supply extraordinary amounts of gas to China for 30 years. This is the really relevant current narrative.

While Europe gazes uneasily inwards, disliking so much of what if finds, Russia is busy working constructively with China, the second richest country in the world.

A huge pipeline is to be built from Eastern Siberia to China, costing around $80 billion. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary is currently in China, and he should be paying attention. This is the biggest construction project our planet has known, and it symbolises how Russia is turning its back on Europe.

There is a genuine tragedy in all this. After starting the first two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, in the second half Europe managed to regroup and build a new progressive comity. That comity is now breaking apart.

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