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May 30, 2014 / politicsbitesize

An earthquake in Europe

euThe results of the weekend’s European elections have swept in a new era for far-right and Eurosceptic parties.  Against a backdrop of discontent millions of people from the 28 countries that make up the EU came out to vote for candidates in the 751-seat legislature. The final results show that the European Parliament is now made up of 348 seats for parties with a left leaning outlook, 297 for the right and 106 undeclared/of no group.

Almost half of the new MEPs come from parties with anti-EU and anti-immigration policies. The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, in an impassioned televised speech called the result a massive political ‘earthquake’.  He was referring to the significant gains made by Marine Le Pen’s party Front National in France, who took 26% (4.1 million) of the vote to be declared the outright winners.

Other countries that have sent members of far-right parties to the EU include Germany (National Democratic Party), Greece (Golden Dawn), Finland (Finns), Denmark (Danish People’s Party), The Netherlands (Party for Freedom), Hungary (Jobbik), Austria (Austrian Freedom) and Italy (Lega Nord).

This is not to say that these parties won overall majorities in each country, but they did make significant gains.  For example, in Greece the leftist party Syriza led with 26.49% of the vote with Golden Dawn taking only 9.33%, but the latter still gained seats that it didn’t have before.  A similar picture was unveiled in Italy where the centre-left Democratic party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi took 30% of the vote, while Lega Nord secured only 5%.

In Britain the Eurosceptic party UKIP took an overall majority with 27.49% of the vote.  However, only 34.19% of the UK population turned out to vote, which actually means that only 9.4% of British citizens voted for the winning party.

FarageThis somewhat undermines the importance of UKIP’s election victory.  The result in the UK should be read as a wake up call for the political establishment.  British citizens certainly want a change, but not necessarily the change that this Eurosceptic and anti-immigration party is peddling. A large number of people did NOT vote at all in this election and perhaps this in itself was a form of protest, in the same way that exit polls showed that a significant proportion of those who did vote chose UKIP as a signal to the main political parties that enough is enough.

As Nigel Farage rightly pointed out, this is the first time in UK politics that an insurgent party has won in such an election and this has caused a political earthquake. But rather than responding with tougher policies on immigration and anti-EU sentiments, the mainstream parties, and in particular those on the left (here’s looking at you Labour), would do well to put forth policies designed to restore trust in the political system.

The British public have had enough of austerity measures, living in poverty whilst working long hours, seeing the rich get richer and inequality spreading despite promises of being ‘in it together’.

As Owen Jones has highlighted, ‘UKIP’s politics of despair has filled a vacuum’ and that is why we need policies with a hopeful message such as: ‘a living wage; letting councils build Britain out of its housing crisis; an industrial strategy to create the renewable energy jobs of the future; turning the bailed-out banks into accountable public investment banks; tax justice; and public ownership of our key utilities.’

On a European scale notice should be taken once more of a white paper published in 2001 entitled European Governance.  It suggested that the EU become more transparent and listen to the needs and wants of each member state, that there should be openness on where expert advice has come from and what alternatives there are to the policies that the EU decides to implement.

The paper’s authors highlighted a paradox that still faces the European Parliament today: ‘On the one hand, Europeans want to find solutions to the major problems confronting our societies. On the other hand, people increasingly distrust institutions and politics or are simply not interested in them.’  It goes on to state that, ‘many people are losing confidence in a poorly understood and complex system to deliver the policies that they want. The Union is often seen as remote and at the same time too intrusive.’

A reworking of the whole system is the real issue that needs to be addressed.  Sending immigrants home or denying them access to a country is NOT the answer to the problems facing society today and neither is exiting the European Union.  What IS needed is an ever-closer union between countries so that egalitarian dialogue can flourish.


One Comment

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  1. fuckeurope / May 31 2014 9:52 am

    English people don’t want Europe? Fine, no problem. Let them out. They are free to decide so. In the same way, countries willing to build Europe should be free to proceed without wasting further time with this endless English ambiguity.

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