By Prateek Ghosal
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The last decade has marked a period of constant turmoil for the countries part of the EU. However, just as times were beginning to turn (indeed at a minute pace), another major roadblock has hit them: the 2014 EU elections! After India, the EU elections are the second biggest democratic vote in the world spanning 28 countries and lasting four days. What has been surprising is the striking similarity of the elections in comparison to India as both have witnessed a rise in the power of the right-wing political parties. However, there are two major anomalies; first, the ‘rise’ of the Right in the EU is in no comparison to the ‘tsunami’ brought by Mr. Modi and second, unlike the recently unleashed animal spirits witnessed in India, a wave of pessimism surrounds the EU.
This pessimism can be mainly attributed to the ‘anti-EU’ ideology that unites these right-wing European parties.
While evidences of widespread dissatisfaction have made these elections a revelation, the instances in UK and France have surprised many. Led by Nigel Farage, the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) has scored a stunning victory by beating the three ever-present political parties of the country. Similar results were also seen in France where Marie Le Pen’s National Front swept past President Francois Hollande’s unpopular Socialist Party.
Hence, it is quiet evident that European voters have sent their politicians into a tailspin by voting in unexpectedly large numbers for anti-European Union parties. To put it quiet frankly, these parties want to dump the euro, pull their countries off the EU, and some of them even want to destroy the Union itself.
This brings us to a question, why did these anti-EU parties do so well? Even though a definite answer to this question is yet to be unraveled, it is evident that the majority of the Europeans were deeply uninspired by the lack-luster performance of the EU. Years of recession and high unemployment, coupled with expensive bailouts of faltering economies, like those of Spain, Ireland, Cyprus and Greece, have left voters dismal.
However what concerns the most are the implications of these uncanny results. Le Pen and her allies have vowed to block the new trade agreement with Washington, push to end the continent’s open borders, stop any attempts to add new E.U. members to the existing 28 countries and severely limit immigration to Europe. The UKIP are also vowing for an anti-EU and strong anti-immigration establishment. Moreover, they’ve also tapped into the feelings of the parties of the extreme left. These parties view spending as a means to cut Europe’s biggest disease: unemployment. Hence it is quiet evident that the ballot box has revealed the growing dissatisfaction amongst the European citizens.
This brings us to yet another major question; will it be successful?
Analyzing the broader picture reveals that even though an anti-EU upsurge is on the cards, there is still a long path ahead. In spite of the big-gains, the so-called ‘euro-skeptics’ have only managed 175 out of 751 seats in the parliament. The four main pro-EU groups still control about 70% of the seats. Two major initiatives can help improve their position further. First, this astounding rise of the Right needs to be replicated in the corresponding national elections and there is no reason to suggest that this may not happen. It will help widen the scope of their power and authority within the EU. Second, only an approach based on unity between these parties can ensure efficient outcomes. At this juncture, this point looks extremely bleak. Mr. Farage refuses to form an alliance with Ms Le Pen, whom he regards as tainted by racism and Antisemitism; Ms Le Pen feels similarly about Hungary’s Jobbik and Greece’s Golden Dawn. It is quiet possible that UKIP or the National Front will find themselves without sufficient allies in their quest to dismantle the EU.
Europhiles (pro-EU) on the other hand, hope that a combination of economic recovery and firm leadership can still push back the wave of Euro-skepticism. But even with a small minority, the anti-E.U. politicians are likely to be much more vocal in the parliament and therefore enjoy more powers than their predecessors. But only time can tell whether they will also have a larger voice.
The author is a second year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Kirorimal College, Delhi University. When he’s not jamming with his band (a passionate drummer) or supporting his beloved football team (Manchester united), he finds solace in economics. He has previously worked as an intern with CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) under the economic policy and research department. His interests include macroeconomic policy, finance and business development. Can be reached at [email protected]