Euroscepticism: an overhauled notion?

Cécile Leconte

In late August 2015 the French economist Jacques Sapir called for the creation of a “national liberation front” against the Euro that would unite the radical, right-wing Front national, the nationalist movement Debout la France (whose leader broke away from the Gaullist party) and the radical, left-wing Front de Gauche. Opposition to the Euro, according to Sapir, implied the building-up of ‘transversal alliances’ transcending the Left/Right cleavage. To be sure, this attempt at creating a union sacrée against the Euro, despite being unsuccessful (at least for the time being), confirms the plausibility of a scenario long envisaged by some political scientists: namely, that the pro-/anti-integration cleavage might re-configure the dimensions of domestic political spaces, to the point that it would eventually supersede the Left/Right cleavage. Moreover, this call for the building up of a “transversal” alliance illustrates two important things related to the phenomenon of Euroscepticism. First, it points at the “empty heart” of Euroscepticism (to borrow an expression initially applied by Paul Taggart to populism) as a phenomenon that escapes any substantial definition in terms of a specific ideological positioning. Second, it shows that Euroscepticism has long ceased to be constrained to the margins of domestic party systems and is now present at their core; indeed, altogether the three parties that Sapir called on to coalesce against the Euro received 35% of the domestic vote at the 2014 European Parliament elections.

Euroscepticism: long considered a marginal phenomenon, a proxy for domestic politics

In fact, for almost two decades, hostility towards European integration has been analyzed as a peripheral phenomenon: mainly located at the ideological margins of party systems. It was also considered as the privilege of a minority of parochial, backward-oriented voters, to be found predominantly in countries seen as “peripheral” to the core of founding countries (such as the UK and the Nordic states). Moreover, to the extent that it was taken into account, Euroscepticism was largely understood as a proxy, through which voters mainly expressed their views on domestic politics, especially their dissatisfaction with incumbent governments’ perceived performance. Certainly, this understanding of Euroscepticism reflected reality, to some extent. However, it was also a by-product of the predominance of specific academic fields or schools of thought in the study of European integration. While the focus on political elites and on the so-called “founding fathers” of the European Communities seemed to confirm the validity of neo-functionalist accounts of European integration, the predominance of an International Relations perspective (both in Political Science and History) long obscured sources of dissent or opposition to integration, be it within specific civil society segments, segments of state institutions, etc.

Euroscepticism as a mainstream phenomenon: towards conceptual overstretching

This situation started to change in the early twenty first century – most pronouncedly with the 2005 referenda in France and the Netherlands that brought the EU constitutional process to a halt. Referendum campaigns in both countries not only highlighted the strength of internal divisions on EU issues within mainstream political parties (most notably in France) but also the significance of the No vote within segments of the electorate deemed to be pro-European (young voters for instance). This only confirmed the results of a vast number of studies showing that hostility towards the EU was not limited to ultra-nationalist, xenophobic voters but was underlain by a complex set of attitudes, where distrust of mainstream politicians and of domestic elected institutions played a crucial role. In the same vein, works on the territorial logics underpinning Euroscepticism broke with previous accounts of British or Nordic “exceptionalism” , by pointing to the changing mood towards the EU in countries hitherto considered as Europhile (like Italy), by focusing on “hidden” forms of Euroscepticism (like indifference or apathy towards the EU) and by refining our understanding of the “geography” of Euroscepticism (that is, by bringing to the fore the relevance of local and regional factors in shaping citizens’ views on the EU).

Recasting the debate on Euroscepticism

However, the ensuing conceptual overstretching of the term ‘Euroscepticism’ led a number of scholars, to question its very relevance. Not only was the non-scientific, polemical nature of the term judged to be inappropriate for academic use; it was deemed as over-simplistic in order to analyze the vast array of possible attitudes towards the EU beyond a mere pro-/anti-integration cleavage.

This questioning of the term went hand in hand with two broader trends in the study of the EU. First, EU studies have witnessed the emergence of a sociological turn leading scholars to move beyond the study of party and political elites’ positions towards the EU and to investigate how civil society actors at the local level and ‘ordinary’ citizens (that is, actors long neglected in mainstream research on the EU) perceive the EU and position themselves on specific EU issues. At the same time, researchers have given up on the idea of giving precise ideological content to Euroscepticism and have started paying attention, rather, to the different uses that actors can make of a Eurosceptic position in the domestic arena – for instance, within specific socio-political power relations. Second, the constructivist turn in the study of the EU led to the development of discursive approaches that investigate, in particular, the de-politicized nature of elite-level discourses on the EU and their impact on domestic public debates on EU integration.

This is where latest research on ‘Euroscepticism’ meets a pre-existing research agenda on populism. Indeed, both notions share a number of similarities: their non-scientific origin and their polemical use, their compatibility with any ideological positioning on the Left/Right cleavage (the ‘empty heart image) etc. Instead of considering populism as an ideology, scholars now focus on the nature of populism as a specific mode of mobilization or as a type of political discourse. Similarly, Euroscepticism can be conceptualized as a specific type of (populist) discourse, disparaging EU integration as an elite-led project and chastising the EU for not relying on a ‘people’ (be it defined in ethnic or in socio-political terms). Moreover, the vast literature analyzing populism as a reaction to de-politicized democracy can be very helpful in order to improve our understanding of the democratic deficit of the EU. Like populism, Euroscepticism can be seen, indeed, as a reaction to de-politicized governance, to the perceived lack of alternatives and to the prevalence of consensual politics – features that deeply characterize the political system of the EU. Finally, placing the study of Euroscepticism within the broader literature on populism paves the way for future, comparative research on other forms of resistance or contestation against regional or international forms of governance, thus breaking with the sui generis and EU-centric perspective that has long characterized much of EU-related research.

Cécile Leconte is senior lecturer in political science at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille, CERAPS/CNRS). This contribution is based on an article initially published in the International Political Science Review.

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Busted flush or breaking through? UKIP and the 2015 British election result

Paul Taggart

The 2015 UK general election result for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) may look as if the spectacular coverage of the party and the predictions for its impact during the campaign were overblown. The party attained only one MP and the Conservative Party managed to pull a parliamentary majority out of the bag, against all expectations. UKIP compounded the turmoil of the post-election period with the resignation and un-resignation of its leader, Nigel Farage. At the same time, the mantle of the new challenger on the block clearly went to the Scottish National Party (SNP) which arrived in Westminster with 56 MPs. But we need to be very careful not to write UKIP off as a busted flush. In a number of ways UKIP was highly successful in 2015 and we need to not lose sight of this.

UKIP’s vote share was 12.6% with nearly 4 million voters. Most importantly, this means that UKIP is now the UK’s third party in terms of the electorate. Its vote share increased more than any of the other party with a rise of 9.5%. The compares with nearly 1.5 million votes for the SNP. And the SNP were the fourth largest party with 7.9% of the vote and nearly 2.5 million voters. And UKIP came second in 120 constituencies. The simple fact is that the vagaries, or more accurately the specificities, of a single-member plurality electoral system mean that, as Liberal Democrats have always known, large dispersed electoral support is not worth as much as smaller concentrated vote shares. The SNP won 56 MPs by winning a plurality in 56 Scottish constituencies but not even standing in 593 constituencies. Whatever Westminster holds, Britain now has a party system in the electorate that places a right-wing populist party right at the heart of the party system.

During the campaign, it was sometimes easy to forget that UKIP was formed as a ‘hard’ Eurosceptic party, campaigning for British withdrawal from the EU. The focus on immigration and on the control of immigration came to the fore and party political broadcasts for UKIP failed sometimes to even mention Europe. But the linkage between the issues of immigration and Europe were foremost in the thinking of Farage and the party. The inability to control borders and immigration were linked to the UK’s membership of the EU, it was time and time again asserted by Farage. And even if we are to think of the two issues as decoupled, for voters the support for a party portraying itself as against the establishment on immigration and Europe come from the same fundamental well-spring. UKIP’s profile has always been more of a populist Eurosceptic force than as a Eurosceptic party that happens to be populist. The focus on immigration has policy links to the EU issue but it has populist sources deeply embedded in this anti-establishment party of the right. In this sense it is much more realistic to view UKIP as part of wave of populist parties in Europe that mobilise around different issues (immigration, regionalism, corruption and Euroscepticism) depending on the context in which they find themselves.

Keeping in mind the level of support, and looking at other populist parties across Europe, it is clear that, however low the supply of UKIP MPs is, the demand in the electorate for a party of this nature is both significant and unlikely to dissipate. The party faces a challenge in how it reacts to the failure to break into Westminster but we should not underestimate the on-going challenge that the party represents for the British party system.

The up-coming referendum on UK membership of the EU is not only largely a consequence of UKIP but it will also provide an important arena on which the party can mobilise. The commitment made by Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron in January 2013 to an EU membership referendum was an attempt to both manage internal divisions within his party over Europe, but also represented a strategy to remove support for UKIP as a challenger for traditional Conservative voters. Now, sitting on a Conservative parliamentary majority, Cameron may well see this as a success but it is also a key goal for UKIP and, therefore, in this one way, the election was a score for Farage.

Europe is set to be the subject of fierce debate in the next year or so in the UK as the country heads towards the membership referendum. If the outcome is ‘Brexit’, UKIP will have achieved their core mission. If the outcome is to stay in the UK, the issue will not disappear. If we have learned one thing from the Scottish referendum, it is that a vote for the status quo on a divisive issue with a challenger party capturing the opposite position is a recipe for continuing the vitality and salience of that issue. The election result for UKIP shows them as a major party in the UK electorate. The impact of UKIP on British politics and, potentially, on the politics of the EU should not be underplayed.

Paul Taggart is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex. He is Co-Convenor of the European Parties Elections and Referendum Network (EPERN) and Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute (SEI).

Eurosceptic party performances in the 2014 European elections

Giovanni Barbieri

Over the years the issue of European integration has acquired greater salience. Because of the intensification and spread of the economic crisis, the media, politicians and scholars have devoted particular attention to two issues: firstly, the activities of the European Parliament (EP) which, more or less effectively, could tackle the crisis; and, secondly, the consequences of the enlargement process. Nevertheless, turnout in EP elections has been decreasing since 1979, reaching its lowest rate of 43% in 2009 and 2014. Voters, therefore, regarded European elections as “second-order” polls: public opinion accorded little importance to their outcome; voters punished governing parties; while opposition and protest parties achieved their best results. Furthermore, citizens’ trust in European institutions has decreased. The “permissive consensus” toward European integration, which began to decline following the negative outcomes of referendums on European issues, appears to be almost completely eroded. Against this background, one could have expected an excellent performance by the Eurosceptic parties in the 2014 EP elections. However, what was the actual outcome? Did Eurosceptic parties truly achieve extraordinary election results? And, if they did, were these results consistent throughout Europe?

A preliminary analysis of the Eurosceptic parties’ electoral performance can be performed by considering the results achieved by those EP political groupings that are typically considered to be Eurosceptic: the soft Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the hard Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), which includes parties adopting both hard and soft Eurosceptic stances. Finally, the Not-attached Members (NA) must also be included in the examination, as they are generally Eurosceptic.

Table 1 shows the electoral results obtained by European political groupings from the first to the most recent EP elections: 

Table 1:  EP political groups 1979-2014 (percentage of MEPs)

1979 1984 1989 1994 1999 2004 2009 2014
Epp 26.3 25.3 23.4 27.5 37.2 36.6 36.0 29.4
S&D 27.3 30.0 34.7 34.9 28.8 27.3 25.0 25.4
Alde 9.8 7.1 9.5 7.8 8.0 12.0 11.4 8.9
Ecr 15.4 11.5 6.6 7.3 9.3
Efdd 3.4 2.6 5.1 4.3 6.4
Eul/Ngl 10.7 9.4 8.1 4.9 6.7 5.6 4.8 6.9
Greens/Efa 4.6 8.3 7.4 7.7 5.7 7.5 6.7
Na 2.4 1.6 2.3 4.8 1.4 4.0 3.7 6.9
Others 8.1 10.5 7.1 9.3 7.6 3.7

Source: Elaboration of data from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/elections_results/review.pdf and http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/election-results-2014.html.

In 2014, the European People’s Party (EPP) remained the largest political group in the EP, despite considerable losses. Together with the EPP, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group suffered the worst decline in recent years. Conversely, from 2009 to 2014, the share for all Eurosceptic groups increased. If, for the sake of argument, one were to add the results obtained by the three Eurosceptic EP groups and the NA members, we would have a total of 29.6% of the seats; a plurality not particularly far from the forecasts expressed by many opinion polls before the elections.

To perform a more in-depth analysis, I have also examined data on individual Eurosceptic parties. To define parties as Eurosceptic or not many scholars have considered their official documents – election manifestos, party platforms and leader’s speeches – whereas others have preferred to appeal to expert judgment. The results of these two approaches, of course, do not always correspond with one another. Thus, to develop a list of the Eurosceptic parties that is as detailed and reliable as possible I compared the main analyses on the topic. Table 2 thus presents the final list of the Eurosceptic parties. It includes 62 parties from 26 countries. Eurosceptic parties are present throughout Europe. Moreover, there are no significant differences relating to: territorial distribution, the date of EU accession, or old political and military cleavages.

Table 2 – Results of the Eurosceptic parties in the European elections of 2014

Country

Party Political group Seats (%) Difference Seats Position
2014 2014 2009-14 2014 2014
1 AT FPÖ  Freedom Party of Austria NA 19.7 7.0 4 3
2 EU Stop 2.8 0 6
3 REKOS The Reform Conservatives 1,2 0 8
4 BZÖ Alliance for the Future of Austria 0.5 -4,1 0  9
5 BE Vlaams Belang Flemish Interest NA 4.1 -5.7 1 10
6 BG NFSB/НФСБ The National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria 3.1 0 7
7 ATAKA Attack 3.0 -9.0 0  8
8 CY ΑΚΕΛ – ΑΚΕL Progressive Party of Working People UEN-NGL 27.0 -7.9 2 2
9 ΕΛΑΜ/ELAM National Popular Front 2.7 2.5 0  7
10 CZ KSČM Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia UEN-NGL 11.0 -3.2 3 4
11 ODS Civic Democratic Party ECR 7.7 -23.8 2 6
12 Svobodni Party of Free Citizens EFDD 5.2 3.9 1 7
13 Usvit Dawn of Direct Democracy 3.1 0 10
14 DE Die Linke The Left UEN-NGL 7,4 -0,1 7 4
15 AfD Alternative for Germany ECR 7,1 7 5
16 NPD National Democratic Party of Germany NA 1,0 na 1 10
17 REP The Republicans 0,4 -0,9 0  14
18 DK DF Danish People’s Party ECR 26,6 11,8 4 1
19 N. People’s Movement against the EU UEN-NGL 8,0 1,0 1 6
20 EE EIP Estonian Independence Party 1,3 na 0  7
21 EL SYRIZA Coalition of the Radical Left UEN-NGL 26,6 21,9 6 1
22 X.A. Golden Dawn NA 9,4 8,9 3 3
23 KKE Communist Party of Greece NA 6,1 -2,3 2 6
24 ANEL Independent Greeks ECR 3,5 1 7
25 ΛΑ.Ο.Σ/LA.O.S. Popular Orthodox Rally 2,7 -4,5 0  8
26 ES IU United Left UEN-NGL 10,0 6,3 5 3
27 BNG Galician Nationalist Block UEN-NGL 2,1 -0,4 1 9
28 FI PS Finns Party ECR 12,9 -1,1 2 3
29 FR FN National Front NA 24,9 18,6 23 1
30 PCF French Communist Party UEN-NGL 6,3 0,3 3 6
31 DLR Arise the Republic 3,8 2,1 0 7
32 LO Worker’s Struggle 1,0 -0,2 0 9
33 NPA The New Anticapitalist Party 0,3 -4,6 0  10
34 HR HSP AS Croatian Party of Rights ECR 41,4 1 1
35 HU Jobbik NA 14,7 -0,1 3 2
36 IE SF Sinn Féin UEN-NGL 19,5 8,3 3 4
37 IT M5S Five Star Movement EFDD 21,2 17 2
38 LN Northern League NA 6,2 -4,0 5 4
39 FDI-AN Brothers of Italy-National Alliance 3,7 3,7 0  7
40 LT TT Order and Justice EFDD 14,3 2,0 2 4
41 LV TB/LNNK For Fatherland and Freedom ECR 14,3 6,8 1 2
42 NL PVV Party for Freedom NA 13,3 -3,7 4 3
43 SP Socialist Party UEN-NGL 9,6 2,5 2 5
44 SGP Dutch Reformed Political Party ECR 7,7 0,9 2 7
45 GroenLinks Green Party Greens-EFA 7,0 -1,9 2 8
46 PL PiS Law and Justice ECR 31,8 4,4 19 2
47 KNP Congress of the New Right NA 7,2 4 4
48 SP United Poland 4,0 0  6
49 RN National Movement 1,4 0 9
50 PT PCP Portuguese Communist Party UEN-NGL 12,7 2,1 3 3
51 BE Left Block UEN-NGL 4,6 -6,1 1 5
52 RO PRM Greater Romania Party 2,7 -6,0 0  8
53 SE MP The Green Party Greens-EFA 15,3 4,3 2 4
54 SD Sweden Democrats EFDD 9,7 6,4 2 5
55 V Left Party UEN-NGL 6,3 0,6 1 7
56 C Centre Party ALDE 6,5 1,0 1 6
57 SI SNS Slovenian National Party 4,0 1,2 0  9
58 SK SNS Slovak National Party 3,6 -2,0 0 10
59 L’SNS People’s Party – Our Slovakia 1,7 0  11
60 UK UKIP United Kingdom Independence Party EFDD 26,8 10,7 24 1
61 Cons: Conservative Party ECR 23,3 -3,7 19 3
62 DUP Democratic Unionist Party NA 0,5 0,1 1 10

Source: Elaboration of data from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/elections_results/review.pdf and http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/election-results-2014.html.

More than 30% of these parties were not able to satisfy the electoral thresholds that most countries selected. Furthermore, they failed to achieve satisfactory results throughout Europe. Many parties – such as the Danish DF, Greek SYRIZA, French FN and UK Independence Party – achieved extraordinary success, but others – such as the Bulgarian ATAKA, Cypriot ΑΚΕΛ-ΑΚΕL and Czech ODS – suffered painful defeats. National contexts and political systems, therefore, appear to have played a pivotal role in affecting electoral outcomes.

The electoral results cannot be perceived in a unitary way for Eurosceptic parties, as they include both positive and negative aspects. Clearly, the Eurosceptic parties obtained an unprecedentedly large percentage of votes, but no “political earthquake”, “sweeps”, or “Europe’s populist backlash”, as predicted by much of the press before the elections, occurred. While suffering a decline of 5.1%, the EPP remained the largest group in the EP; former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker, the leading candidate of the EPP, took charge of the European Commission; and a new grand coalition of the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and ALDE was formed. The Eurosceptic parties, therefore, will not have substantial authority within the EP.

Furthermore, Eurosceptic parties have never been able to form a joint anti-European front both because of their different stances, purposes, aspirations, and, above all, their mutual mistrust. A detailed consideration of the negotiations that the various Eurosceptic parties, especially those in the right-wing camp, undertook to form new EP groups may be extremely useful to clarify this issue. No extreme right or neo-fascist party, such as the Greek X.A. or the Hungarian Jobbik, has ever been allowed to join any EP group. The attempts made by Marine Le Pen, leader of the French FN, and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch PVV, to form a new political grouping called the European Alliance for Freedom (EFA) failed. The two most prominent figures in the potential alliance managed to ally with the Austrian FPÖ, the Italian LN and the Belgian Vlaams Belang but were unable to secure the necessary support of two additional parties. The negotiations opened by the French FN with the Polish KNP were quickly interrupted by Wilders, who deemed the misogynistic and anti-Semitic positions of its then leader, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, intolerable.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP, by contrast, was able to form the EFDD grouping, although this is the smallest EP political grouping and has MEPs from only seven member states. In the first official EFDD meeting after the elections, Farage declared that he would not accept the possible future entry of those parties that supported the formation of the EFA group. Thus it would appear that each Eurosceptic party has a rather negative opinion of its fellow Eurosceptics; in particular, the centre-right parties consider the right-wing parties to be extremists, and neither wishes to have anything to do with the far-right and neo-fascist parties. “He’s worse than me”, could be the statement that best epitomizes the relationships within the Eurosceptic right-wing camp. It should be noted, however, that several Eurosceptic parties – such as the Danish DF, Greek Syriza, the French FN and the UKIP – received the most votes in their respective countries in the EP election, and others – such as the Italian M5S, the Latvian LNNK, and the Polish PiS – secured second place. It would, therefore, appear that these parties were able to move away from the niche positions they have typically held in the electoral market and, thereby, became influential players in the national political arena. In pursuing their goals, they will probably encounter fewer obstacles in the national arena than in the European one.

In conclusion, Eurosceptic parties do not appear to have passed the EP electoral test with flying colours, although their further success could just have been postponed. A further exacerbation of the economic crisis, and/or the inability of the EU institutions in addressing it, could lead such parties toward new and more considerable achievements.

Giovanni Barbieri is Assistant Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Perugia.

The Eurosceptic paradox

The results of the European elections represented an undoubted success for Eurosceptics of all stripes. With the big advances made by the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Front National (FN), Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Movement 5 Star (M5S) in both vote share and seats secured, plus a host of others, there are now more sceptical, critical and generally heterodox voices than ever before.

And yet, there still remains something of a paradox. For all this strength, while it is easy to point to all these parties and to announce the breaking of a Eurosceptic dawn, there is not clarity about what that means or even if it will happen at all.

The reasons for this are threefold.

Firstly, in all the media hype, it has been largely forgotten that ‘Euroscepticism’ doesn’t really exist, at least in the sense of a coherent ideology. Euroscepticism is a manifestation of actions that are themselves ideologically driven, and there are almost as many different motivations as there are parties. The differences between Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament (EP) are as big as the range of ideologies represented in the chamber as a whole. Thus, the ex-communist left has little, or nothing to let it make common cause, with the far-right, or the conservatives, or even the liberal strand represented by AfD.

The struggles we are witnessing now to form parliamentary groups was always going to happen, especially with the fundamental cleavages on the right. With the three parties that were likely to be most successful (in seats) – the FN, UKIP and the British Conservatives – mutually excluding links with each other, the race to lure in the small parties needed to meet the country threshold has been intense.

Even if we concede that the formation of three groups on the right – far-right, Eurosceptic and conservative – is mathematically possible, then just as clearly we have to concede that they will have relatively low levels of cohesion, both internally and externally. Thus, in narrow parliamentary terms, the scope of Eurosceptics to block or even shape legislation coming through the EP will be very limited indeed.

This leads us to the second key factor, namely the other MEPs. Despite the losses suffered – especially by the EPP – the EPP-S&D centrist blocs control 55% of the votes, with ALDE adding almost another 8%. This might not be as robust as the coalitions in EPs past, but the ability to draw on past experience of centrist politics will be helpful.

Added to this is the on-going Spitzenkandidat issue. The high level of support, within the EP at least, for Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President is not only good politics by the EP, but also a vehicle for inter-group cooperation. Notably, it is the Eurosceptic parties and groups that have been least interested in this and so are less bound in.

It is not difficult to imagine a centrist coalition holding the reins of power in the EP for the next five years, regardless of whether Juncker moves into the Berlaymont. The politics of a cordon sanitaire, as practised in several member states, will be the norm, treating critical voices of any kind as being akin to far-right or fascist parties. The communautaire norms of the EP might have taken a knock with the election results, but we are much more likely to see the pursuit of pro-EU actions to ‘reconnect with the public’ than we are to see a dismantling of the system.

Those citizens then form the third key factor. While politicians and media commentators are all claiming they know what these elections ‘mean’, the truth of the matter is that such ‘meaning’ is highly elusive. Given the continuing second-order nature of EP elections, voters will have had primarily national concerns in mind: to take one small example, consider the difference successes of the FN and Wilders’ Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), despite their pre-election alliance.

Despite this, we have to accept that there is much discomfort within the electorate, even if it is inchoate and uneven. However, given the fractured nature of Eurosceptic representation and the likely reaction to it in the EP, it is hard to see how that will be translated into a programme of action, both either the EU or national political systems.

This is not to say that there is no regard for this, but rather that the EU as a political system is designed to build consensus for policy outputs, and the hetereogeniety of opposition and scepticism, makes it very difficult to address: addressing one issue (free movement of people, for example) will either displease sceptics of a different stripe, or be unacceptable to the broader community. Seen like this, the response of ‘more Europe’, via the Spitzenkandidat model, looks like the path of least resistance.

This is unlikely to engender a reversal of popular attitudes towards the EU, or with the democratic system more generally. While turnout might have lifted fractionally this time, the depth of disengagement seen in some countries might become a lot more common next time around.

To pull this all together, we might, therefore, consider that the greatest danger is not the election of so many Eurosceptics to the EP, but the risk that the Parliament (and the Union) can continue to function as if nothing has happened. Even if Eurosceptics are split among themselves and poorly organised, they still form a legitimate part of the body politic and deserve as much attention as any other section of society. Only with a genuine and substantial commitment to trying to engage with such voices can the Union find a way out of this situation: an ambitious demand, but surely one in keeping with the democratic mission of the EU.

 

Simon Usherwood

(s.usherwood@surrey.ac.uk) is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Surrey and one of the co-ordinators of the Universities Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) Collaborative Research Network on Euroscepticism.