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Cross-section Euroscepticism

Xesc Arbona
Xesc Arbona

Euroscepticism and the far-right were on everyone’s lips ahead of the elections last week. However, while the anti-EU parties certainly made gains across Europe not all countries sent such a strong message to the European parliament.

Three countries who were all expected to send a strong anti-EU message all had different results. Italy, the Netherlands and the UK all voted and had different reactions to the expected wave of support for the Eurosceptics.

Italy: A victory for the mainstream

40.8 per cent of the vote went to the center-left Democratic Party (PD) of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The Five Star Movement (M5S), facing its first European election, emerged as the second biggest party, with about 21 per cent of the votes, followed by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which still manages to convince 16 per cent of the voters. The left-wing Italian list supporting Tsipras’ “Other Europe” scores a modest 4 per cent, still enough to send three MEPs to Strasbourg.

Palazzo Chigi
Palazzo Chigi

Even in Italy, the Democratic Party’s (PD) striking victory came as a surprise, as media and pollsters had predicted a close run between their party and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S). For the PD, a party which was born in 2007 from the union of Social and Christian Democrats, this is a record victory in its history and the second biggest in the history of modern Italy.

The party is also the biggest winner in Europe, winning 31 seats, even more than Merkel’s CDU in Germany, which took 29. This is an incredible result considering PD’s reputation as a “loser” party, especially following the Pyrrhic victory achieved in the 2013 national parliamentary elections. This was when Bersani did win a majority, but was unable to form a government coalition. It’s strange to see such election results following those events.

One key factor is Matteo Renzi. Disliked by the hardcore left for being too centrist, Renzi’s charisma conquered instead the moderate voters who are not anti-immigration like Salvini’s Northern League, who agree with the capitalist market system unlike Tsipras’ Other Europe, who are honest unlike Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and who dislike Grillo’s Five Star Movement’s loud and simplistic slogans.

Despite not having accomplished many of the promises he made upon becoming Prime Minister, Renzi’s aura of optimism and “can-do” attitude, so reminiscent of 1994 Berlusconi, is well received by the Italian electorate who simply cannot resist the charm of a leader presenting himself as a natural born winner.

The Democratic Party was also the only party in Italy belonging to the European Socialist Party, supporting Martin Schulz’s bid for EU Commissioner. Instead, the M5S refused to support a candidate to the Commission or join an existing parliamentary group, declining Marine Le Pen’s invitation. However, a parliamentary group needs to have at least 25 members from at least seven countries, so the M5S’s members would have just sat between those in the  “mixed group,” thus leaving them with limited influence. In a European election, voting for a party is more than expressing a preference at the national level, and people voting PD might have recognised that.

Renzi is likely to seek a prestigious role for Italy in the new EP, perhaps with an Italian becoming President of the European Parliament (the post previously occupied by Martin Schulz) or in the future Commission. In July, Renzi will also become President of the European Council as Italy takes over the leadership from Greece. This may be the time for a stronger Italian influence in Europe. But as in Italy, politics always comes second to football, in the next month Italians will look at Brazil: if the azzurri win the World Cup, Renzi’s popularity may soar way above 40%.

By Sofia Lotto Persio

Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ stumbles

Roel Wijnants
Roel Wijnants

Dutch political parties had 26 seats to sort during the elections last week. Ahead of the elections, the battle seemed to centre around a pro-European and an anti-European party: D66 (Democrats) and the PVV  the far-right, party led by Geert Wilders. However, exit polls showed that it was the Christian Democrats of the CDA that came out ahead. Thanks to an alliance with other Dutch Christian parties, the CDA won an additional fifth seat, whereas D66 and PVV obtained four each. D66 gained a seat, while PVV lost one compared to the 2009 elections. Another winner is the PvdD, the Party for Animals. For the first time in history, a party that focuses on animal rights gained a seat in the European Parliament.

Wilders’ PVV joined forces with the French Front Nationale, but as the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant suggests, it remains to be seen if these two parties can find other allies in the European Parliament. The British UKIP and the Italian populist party run by Beppe Grillo are not interested in joining Front Nationale in an anti-European alliance. De Volkskrant quotes its EU correspondent in saying that “experience shows that among this kind of [anti-European] parties, egos are slightly bigger than election victories.”

By Lisanne Oldekamp

United Kingdom: Farage humiliates the establishment

In stark comparison to the election results in Italy and the Netherlands, there has been a sharp rise in support for the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) which won over 30 per cent of the popular vote.

European Parliament
European Parliament

This was a remarkable election and has rattled a few cages among the main parties in the UK. The Conservatives have criticised Europe and some of their MPs have called for a promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union to be brought forward.

Meanwhile, the centre-left parties of Labour and the Liberal Democrats had mixed fortunes. The Labour party narrowly beat the Conservatives to second place, but remained a long way behind UKIP. The Liberal Democrats suffered a massive defeat losing ten of their eleven MEPs and falling into fifth place behind the much smaller, a less well-funded Green Party.

The rise in support for UKIP has been blamed on the inability of British political parties to represent ordinary people following the financial crisis and tough austerity measures which has squeezed many in the UK. This has also been linked to a rise in anti-EU rhetoric among the main parties, most notably the Conservatives, as UKIP begins to steal voters from the main three parties.

Another important factor is the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, who has managed to portray himself as an ordinary person who knows what the electorate want. Criticisms have been made of this image – both regarding Farage’s privileged past and his parties electoral policies which are strongly right wing – however the protest vote appears to believe the message he has to say.

The long term impact of these results is unclear, but Britain’s relationship with the EU looks set to be a key point of contention heading into the 2015 General Election and beyond.

In Scotland, the SNP continued their electoral dominance winning the majority of the popular vote. However, in a shock result UKIP was successful enough in Scotland to win enough votes for a representative from Scotland.

By Greg Bianchi

While these elections are certainly a turning point in the European Parliament’s relationship with its citizens, the division between European countries is stark. The anti-EU movement has grown, yet it failed to record the large wins it was predicting across the European Union. This will provide the EU with some comfort, but the future composition of the union is still up for debate.

 

 

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