The voters from the 28 member states of the European Union (EU) cast their ballots for the European Parliament for four days between May 22 and 25. The results were somewhat expected, but shocking for many nevertheless. The rise of the anti-establishment parties that are skeptical about the idea of a unified Europe, as well as racist parties hostile to immigrants, is now a fact of life throughout Europe. Some have started to question the future of a multicultural Europe and even Europe-wide integration.
What started as isolated local successes in parts of France and the U.K. almost three decades ago is now a Europe-wide phenomenon. The anti-establishment parties clearly made their claim heard for the future of Europe.
In Germany, for instance, Alternative for Germany (AfD), a pro-EU but anti-euro party, won seven seats in the Parliament. In France, Marine Le Pen’s Euroskeptic far-right National Front (FN) won 24 seats with a nearly record breaking 25 percent of the vote. Likewise, in the United Kingdom, the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) won 24 seats with 27 percent of the vote. It was an unprecedented political success, not only for the UKIP, but also for the political system, as it became the first part to break the dominance of the Conservative and Labour parties in the U.K. for the first time since 1906.
Similarly, the anti-immigration far-right People’s Party in Denmark, the Euroskeptic Dutch Freedom Party, the Italian Five Star Movement, and the racist far-right Golden Down in Greece all increased their shares of the votes in the European elections. How should we read this result?
The EU has had to cope with various crises throughout its existence and usually comes through reinvigorated, every time, proving its resilience. The latest Euro crisis, raging since 2008, is a similar test. Yet, its painful impacts across Europe have been widespread, and despite the tight monetary policies and austerity measures adopted with the German pressure, are still deeply felt.
According to Eurostat, 26 million Europeans are unemployed today, including 5.5 million under 25, reaching the highest rates across post-war Europe. For many, immigrants, the Euro, and deeper integration are easy scapegoats. So, they voted for the anti-EU/Euro parties to show their displeasure with their governments. Although clearly disturbing, these parties’ power to disrupt the functioning of the Union itself is rather low. Even within the Parliament, their impact would depend on their will to work together and form a unified coalition against centrist parties that will retain their dominance for the time being.
Yet, while their short-term impact would be limited at the Union level, the rise of the “Euro-right” will deeply affect every individual member state. The results showed European citizens are not happy with the mainstream parties. So, what would happen should these parties repeat their successes in the next general elections in their own countries? Would mainstream parties start moving toward “Euro-right” policies to prevent voters sliding to these parties? After all, their very survival is on the line.
On the Union level, there is another struggle going on for the most powerful EU post, the president of the Commission, and the debates behind doors are heated and somewhat less than diplomatic. When the name of former Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker was mentioned as a favorite, British PM David Cameron warned of the possibility of an early referendum about his country’s existence within the EU.
Clearly, both the member states and the EU will be dealing with their internal problems for a while. What happens in the meantime at the margins of Europe will affect all of us though. Let us hope the EU members can fix their problems soon and return to the idea of “Europe as a peace project” for the whole continent.
This article first appeared in Hurriyet Daily News, a leading newspaper of Turkey.