Europe's sceptics are divided about their scepticism

It is only really in the UK, Denmark and the Czech Republic that euroscepticism reaches an existential, constitutional level. If we have made progress, it has merely shown how far there is to go

Wilders and Le Pen. Nigel won't be joining them
Tim Hedges
On 26 May 2014 14:10

We have all seen the results and the hyperbole: ‘Earthquake’, ‘Shock’, ‘Revolution’. None of us should be surprised at this: the last Euro-elections were in 2009, as Europeans were wondering how to deal with the new economics of recession.

This time, Europe has lived through depression, the near collapse of the euro, the deeply unpopular German-driven austerity and in many places social unrest.

The pollsters had also forecast it: the Electionista survey, out last week, predicted big eurosceptic gains in the four largest countries, with not much going on in Spain or Poland. It is worth looking at the four most populous nations because they paint a very confused picture.

Germany has 96 seats (out of 751in total) and the eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD) seems to have got around 7% of the vote, giving it only a modest representation. Mrs Merkel won comfortably.

In France the elections were won by Marine Le Pen’s Front National, which easily beat the centre-right UMP. The ruling socialists came a dismal third.

In the UK, Nigel Farage’s UKIP beat the opposition Labour, leaving the governing Conservatives in third place. A mirror image of France. Or is it?

And what to say about Italy, where I live? The Electionista forecast showed eurosceptic parties getting 26 out of Italy’s 73 seats, a slightly higher proportion than in the UK. But it lists the parties as the Northern League and Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement.

What of Silvio Berlusconi, who describes himself as a eurosceptic? Grillo’s manifesto for Europe demanded an end to austerity and the 3% budget deficit limit, and that if that were not to happen he would hold a referendum on staying in the euro (not, as the UK’s David Cameron has promised, on staying in the EU). Berlusconi has said all that and more.

So should Electionista have included Berlusconi and forecast 40 eurosceptic seats in Italy, more than half?

The result, in fact, was a massive victory for the euro-happy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who managed an astonishing 41% of the vote, leaving Grillo (21%) and Berlusconi (16%) in his wake. Renzi is seen both as centre-left and reformist and he took votes off both his opponents. He is not eurosceptic at all.

I am not criticising Electionista’s forecast, but the analysis is interesting. There is euroscepticism in Europe but no eurosceptic umbrella.

The AfD in Germany, who have made it clear they won't work with far-Right parties, are concerned that too much of their money is going to the olive belt which wastes it. On that score, The Northern League in Italy feel the same way: the area they purport to represent, the Po Valley, would, if it were independent, be the richest part of Europe.

The origins of Marine Le Pen’s National Front are extreme anti-immigration, although the rest of her policies, which include protectionism and anti-globalisation, show how close the extreme left and extreme right are. Also from the anti-immigration side is Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands which has done badly, losing one or two seats.

The bulk of euroscepticism in Greece (where Alex Tsipras’s Syriza movement has done well), Italy and Spain concerns the euro and the euro area, and its recession. They are movements against austerity, in favour of eurobonds guaranteed by Germany, in favour of spreading the wealth around.

It is only really in the UK, Denmark and the Czech Republic that euroscepticism reaches an existential, constitutional level. UKIP was started because the Maastricht Treaty created a new political entity called the EU which was to have a currency, a Central Bank, an army and a flag. We felt that we were losing our nation state through soggy politics and that the ordinary voter had no champion.

If we have made progress, it has merely shown how far there is to go. Nobody, at least in mainland Europe, seems to be saying ‘is this federalism a good idea?’. Most, even among eurosceptics, seem happy to lose sovereignty, some even believing that being run by unelected eurocrats might somehow stop World War Three.

It’s not just Europe that can’t agree its future: the doubters can’t agree amongst themselves. Back to work, Nigel!

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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