Watching the eurosceptics

Opponents of the Lisbon Treaty, anti-capitalists, far-right extremists – dissenting parties may well be the major winners in the European elections, but what weight will they carry in the future parliament? wonders the European press.

Published on 5 June 2009 at 16:40

Analysis of polls and results of the vote in the Netherlands suggest that Eurosceptics will be more numerous in the next parliament. As Polish daily Dziennik reports, the prospective alliance between British Conservatives, the Polish Law and Justice party and the Czech ODS has supporters of the Lisbon Treaty breaking out in a cold sweat, especially since this group may become the second largest force in Parliament, with the added anxiety that it will possibly benefit from the support of a extreme-right group led by Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. If the Eurosceptics win enough votes, worries Dziennik, the European Union will have to postpone projects for common diplomatic initiatives, and plans to appoint a President of the European Union and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Not all Eurosceptics are extremists, however, though extremists may be well be major winners in the current elections. German weekly Die Zeit reports that at least 12 extreme-right parties are expected to send representatives to Brussels and Strasbourg. “The extreme-right has now established a powerful network in Europe,” it claims, and traditional parties have been unable to devise a strategy to oppose them. “All too often, democratic parties avoid taking these groups to task in constructive debate, but simply tolerate them with a condescending smile,” says political analyst Britta Schellenberg. They tend “to respond on a strictly local level instead of reasoning in terms of Europe.”

The Right does not have a monopoly on Euroscepticism, however, points out Le Figaro, which reports that in France, the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and the Front for the Left are “rejecting a federal Europe,” which they believe is too free-market oriented. There are many other players that could be “broadly defined as sovereigntist” – latest estimates indicate 180 MEPs from a total of 736, but this is a very heterogeneous group, and it is likely to remain so after the elections. In countries like Poland, the conservative French daily remarks, it’s not easy to see what Lech Walesa and the League of Polish Families, which are both represented on the Libertas list, have in common. Nor do the “No voters” of the French Socialist Party have much by way of a shared platform with the Scandinavian June Movement groups, who are campaigning for the withdrawal of Denmark and Sweden from the European Union. “Apart from their rejection of the EU, or the call to build a new Europe, these parties are unable to construct a coherent movement that could present positive proposals,” Le Figaro concludes.

Then why are they proving so successful? In a far-reaching paper for Spiked magazine, sociologist Frank Furedi explains that by focussing on the extreme-right the political class hides it lack of “popular legitimacy”. Unable to win a positive endorsement of a European project that “lacks content”, it seeks to panic people by alluding “to the economic instability of the 30’s” and “the emergence of fascism.” Inflating the threat of marginal groups, and enlarging the meaning of “extremist” to include Eurosceptics not necessarily anti-Europe, is a ploy that stifles serious discussion. Although it might forge “a measure of unity around a disconnected EU elite” this reliance on “negative morality (…) is likely to confirm people’s cynicism towards political life”.

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