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Ignoring Euro-scepticism won’t make it go away

Anti-European Union and populist parties registered stunning gains in European Parliament (EP) elections over the last week, finishing first in several member states, including France, the United Kingdom, and Denmark, writes Daniela Schwarzer.

As the country-by-country analyses by German Marshall Fund experts indicate, Euro-sceptic parties were the rising stars of the 2014 polls. The largest Europe-wide blocs, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), saw their vote shares shrink to just one-third.

Some commentators have played down the political effects of the vote, pointing out that the small anti-establishment parties have never been particularly engaged in the European Parliament’s actual work. And, they say, given their diversity, these parties may not be able to form parliamentary groups that would give them more speaking time, rapporteur roles, and politically important jobs like committee chairs.

However, they will use their parliamentary presence as a platform for their Euro-sceptic, anti-globalising, and xenophobic discourse. This will affect the political climate in the EU and may weigh heavily on upcoming debates of strategic importance, for instance on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States. The high number of anti-establishment members in the EP will also narrow the gap between the moderate parties. The EP has, in effect, long been run by a grand coalition, and the lack of visible difference between the EPP and S&D may only further strengthen the political fringes in the 2019 EP elections.

The strongest impact, however, will be felt in those member states in which Euro-sceptic parties performed best. France is facing a domestic political crisis, with a president who will have major difficulties pursuing reforms. Britain’s David Cameron will now have an increasingly hard time keeping his country in the EU. Some southern European leaders will likely reconsider budgetary consolidation and economic reforms. And more political controversy should be expected, even in Germany after the performance of the Euro-sceptic Alternative für Deutschland.

Euro-sceptics will not go away by being ignored. National and European leaders will have to develop more compelling views on how to improve the performance of the European Union and increase the legitimacy of EU decision-making. The absence of a convincing growth strategy and unresolved weaknesses in the euro area’s governance architecture need to be tackled, while security challenges, energy sustainability, and issues related to justice and home affairs all require more political attention. The selection of a new EU leadership, which started with Tuesday’s European Council meeting, will be the first test of the EU’s ability to deliver.

Daniela Schwarzer is Director of the Europe Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Berlin. The GMF first published this article as part of its Transatlantic Takes series.

 

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