Europe between sceptics and structural mistakes

Gianluca Crisci gives an international perspective of next week’s European Elections.

Next week 500 million European citizens from 28 different countries will be voting in the European Parliament elections.

Support for the EU institutions varies greatly from when Europe last voted for its Parliament in 2009. The ongoing economic crisis started affecting several member countries only a few months after the 2009 elections, notably the Southern belt: Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The only “Northern” country seriously affected was Ireland.

As a result of this financial crisis the European Council were forced to pursue a strict austerity programme which set several nations on a programme of deep cutbacks. This saw a decreasing faith in EU leadership and also provoked violent protests, characterised by riots and strikes, particularly in Greece and Spain.

Latest statistics state that Greek citizens’ approval for the EU decreased to 19% in 2013 – it was 32% in 2010 – while in Spain it reduced by half from 59% in 2008 to 27% in 2013.

This situation of discontent allowed many populist euro-sceptics and ultra nationalist parties to increase their standing by finding wide endorsement among the most dissatisfied social classes around Europe.

An example of this trend is the great success that Golden Dawn, the Greek far-right party obtained at the 2012 elections, taking 18 seats in the National Greek Parliament, or the unexpected achievement in last month’s French municipal elections of the ultra conservative party Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, which forced the Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to resign.

Le Pen’s party guidelines focus on a nationalist social policy – she aims to give French citizens priority in employment policies – and her party holds a strong scepticism towards Europe, particularly over monetary union.

Ahead of the next European elections, Marine Le Pen is seeking support from other eurosceptics to join the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), the far right pan-European party which is running for the next elections, in a move described by Le Pen herself as an attempt to “break the EU from the inside”.

She has been able to convince the formerly reluctant Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) and the Italian Northern League (LN) to join the Alliance, along with members of the Austrian Freedom Party, the Flemish Vlaams Belang, the Swedish Democrats and the Slovak National Party.

These parties are all characterised by a strong anti-European attitude that has been amplified since the eruption of the financial crisis with intensifying criticism towards the monetary union, which has faced the brunt of blame from the right for the recession.

It is in some ways curious to note that Golden Dawn, as well as the British National Party and the National Democratic Party of Germany will not run for the European elections as part of the EAF despite many shared goals regarding the EU institutions. This is due to them being deemed as ‘not suitable’ as a result of often anti-semitic policies.

Experts all around the world, such as high profile journalists and politicians, seem to show little concern about a possible copious presence of far right anti-European MEPs inside the institution  after the next elections. As Cas Mudde stated in the Washington Post in April, even though the European political establishment should consider the growing influence of the right in Europe as a fact, “the far right has a long, and mostly unsuccessful history of collaboration in the EP”.

Moreover, the results of the past seven elections mainly show an alternation between the both moderate European Socialist Party and the European People’s Party in the European leadership, and the polls for the forthcoming elections seem to confirm this trend for almost all the Member States.

However, in order to put the threat of the far right in Europe into perspective, it is important to consider how much the European context has changed since 2009. As we have seen the financial crisis, and the measures adopted by the European Council to fight it played a fundamental role in enlarging the gap between citizens and institutions in Europe. This gap has emerged as a legacy of mistakes made during the building of the current European political structure.

This is a structure that is still far from being completed in the vision that many had for it. The poor turnout of just 43% at the 2009 elections keenly demonstrates this.

On top of the list of potential mistakes is one of the European sceptics favourite leitmotiv: the monetary union. This is a significant issue as many EU supporters have certain reservations regarding the monetary union, with some citing it as a missed opportunity for Europe.

Over the past few decades the prospect of Europe unified under the same currency was prioritised far above an effective real union of people.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake of the European process to date has been the failure to establish a proper social and political background in Europe before the introduction of the Euro. In history, there is no trace of societies being successfully being unified by currency.

This lack of responsibility in the introduction of the Euro is a sign of a world led by financial dogmas rather than people’s needs, and can be considered as a fatal flaw, the consequences of which can be found by looking at the current political scenario where the far right look to make their mark across Europe.

The carelessness of European leaders in shaping Europe sadly reminds me of the carelessness of today’s experts analysing the rise of euroscepticism. There has been a failure by many to notice the rise of the anti- European front, and few are asking key questions about why this has happened.

I would start asking why the anti-European front is getting once again so popular among people, bringing back to the ghosts of authoritarianism, and why European people are every day farther from their institutions, those institutions who have been created to ensure equality across the Union, but that in reality are still not able to make citizens feel part of a real, active, democratic community.

Gianluca Crisci is a former intern at the IWA, and is an overseas contributor to Click on Wales.

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