Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Questions posed by the Euroskeptic tide

The gains for the Euroskeptic parties across the EU poses a few questions for how European politics will develop. There seems to be consensus that the far-right and far-left parties won't have sufficient numbers to block the workings of the Parliament, though it's unclear yet if another far-right grouping forms out of the new NI intake beside the EFD. Having a political group attracts resources and money, as well as winning the group committee seats which would allow the new Euroskeptics to make a bigger impact.

A Grand Coalition between the EPP and PES (with ALDE and the Greens, and occasionally ECR on some issues) will probably be the order of the day. While the presidential race gained some attention in some Member States, it's fair to say that the protest vote is what helped arrest the decline in turnout. But while the Euroskeptic vote needs to be taken seriously, the response must be balanced against the fact that the vast majority of voters voted for pro-Union parties - though with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Politically within the Parliament the most interesting impact may be on the EPP and ECR. Will the EPP start couching its position in terms of Member States' rights (Juncker, though extremely pro-European, has come across as a Intergovernmental type of pro-European, pointing to the legitimacy of the Council on plenty of occasions)? Will the ECR attract some EPP members such as Orban's Fidesz party, which is often at odds with Brussels and has stated that it will not back Juncker?

But the Member States are where the influence of he election result will be most keenly felt.

Member States & Euroskepticism - Will the Member States reverse integration?:

The impact of Euroskepticism will be felt differently across the EU. The success of the far-left UEL parties in some countries, such as Greece and to a lesser extent in Ireland, indicates that treaty change will be harder to push through, but it is a different sort of skepticism to that of the right - from socialism in one country to a stronger (and ironically more integrated) Social Europe. In France, Denmark, Austria and the UK, the anti-EU and anti-immigration vote is closer to what springs to mind when it comes to right-wing Euroskepticism.

I don't think that there will be a move towards turning back the clock on the Eurozone or the Schengen free border area, but tougher rules on access to welfare and public services for those who do exercise their free movement rights could be brought in nationally and perhaps at the European level. It's unlikely that the EU will soften its approach to asylum and immigration. Politicians who want more fiscal union to fill in the gaps of the Eurozone will have much less room to maneuver - expect a lot of policy drift.

The lessons on the rise of the Euroskeptics for national parties may be to accommodate tougher EU and immigration positions in some countries, but the lessons won't be the same everywhere. Classical right-wing Euroskepticism seems to have done well in older, richer Member States, but not everywhere. In The Netherlands, Wilders' PVV lost votes (while the pro-European D66 topped the poll). The CSU, Merkel's Bavarian sister party, was punished for its anti-European stance - but on the other hand, the economically right-wing and Eurozone-skeptic AfD polled well in some of the Laender were elections will soon take place.

For the crisis-hit countries, Eurobonds and pooling debt could be attractive, with a lot of anger aimed at the Eurozone system as it currently stands not necessarily leading to ruling out all integration if it helps them economically. And in Italy the Democratic Party (PES) convincingly beat the protest Five Star Movement with around 40% of the polls, almost double the Five Star Movement's vote - this is a mainstream party, in government but with a reformist agenda, winning big.

So how will this all work out in the Council? Yes, there needs to be a response, but many parties and countries will differ on what the right course of action would be - there are a few lessons that could be learned depending on where you stand, and that's only looking at a part of the electorate.

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