The Corner

Barbarians at the Gate?

Writing in the Financial Times, Josh Chafin takes a somewhat anxious (but with the exception of one jibe, largely fair-minded) look at signs of a euroskeptic surge in the upcoming (May 2014) elections for the European Parliament. Chafin notes that France’s Marine Le Pen and Holland’s Geert Wilders have been talking about some form of cooperation (UKIP’s Nigel Farage is warier) and comments:

The Le Pen-Wilders partnership is not an isolated incident. Across the EU, parties hostile to Europe’s postwar project of integration are banding together for what many in Brussels fear could be a populist surge in May’s European parliament elections. Even ardent European federalists now concede that as much as 30 per cent of the new parliament will comprise eurosceptics who are capitalising on the economic misery and high levels of unemployment that are plaguing the continent.

Then he goes on to write this:

Eurosceptics come in different shapes and sizes, from those seeking an end to the EU to milder so-called eurocriticals who advocate reforms that would result in a looser, lighter bloc. Whether a disparate group of populists and nationalists can form an effective alliance across European borders to upend the status quo in Brussels remains to be seen. Some groups are still keen to keep their distance from others they consider unpalatable.

I’d be surprised if there ise that much coordination in the end, and this, I am sure, is right:

If the eurosceptics make big gains next year, it would give them a new soapbox to promote their ideas and try to shift the European debate. But the parliament’s unique system could thwart any legislative ambitions. It has long operated on a broad consensus between the two largest parties: the centre-right European People’s party and the centre-left Socialists. A big intake of eurosceptics might make this arrangement messier but it would not overturn it, say diplomats.

Indeed it would not, but it would show up the nature of the consensus for the essentially oligarchic thing that it is.

And this is key:

The bigger effect of next year’s vote may be the repercussions beyond Brussels. If the eurosceptics do well, mainstream parties at home will come under pressure to toughen their own policies on Europe – a phenomenon that first played out in Finland and has since been repeated elsewhere. As Mr Farage says: “What’s interesting about the European elections is it’s not so much the effect it has here that matters. It’s the effect it has on domestic politics.” Ukip’s success has prodded David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, to harden his line on Europe by promising voters an EU referendum and demanding the repatriation of powers from Brussels.

In similar fashion, the Netherlands, long considered one of the EU’s most integrationist members, surprised observers in June when the government of Mark Rutte, the Liberal prime minister, unveiled a list of 54 policy areas that should be kept at national level….

But there ought to be no doubt that yet more pressure is needed. Chafin takes a look at the rise of the Finns party (formerly known as the True Finns, and always known as Perussuomalaiset), a party that has risen on the back of “popular fury against EU bailouts underwritten, in part, by Finland.” He talks to Sampo Terho, a Finns-party MEP:

“The crisis really brought the problems of the EU to the wider public, to the common conversation,” says Mr Terho. Unlike Mr Farage, he does not advocate immediate withdrawal from the EU. But he favours a looser union where members can pick and choose what they like. The party’s campaign for next year’s elections, which Mr Terho is overseeing, can be boiled down to a single word: “Enough!” – to bailouts, to integration and to sending more money and authority to Brussels.

Mr. Terho will need to shout louder. In a separate story, the FT reports this:

A fervent defender of eurozone austerity even in the midst of its third recession since the start of the financial crisis, Finland appears to be softening its image as being more German than the Germans in the face of growing support for “populist” eurosceptic parties ahead of next year’s European parliamentary elections. Jyrki Katainen, Finland’s prime minister, told the Financial Times in Rome that Helsinki was ready to support further eurozone bailouts of Greece and Portugal if necessary.

“Enough” already.

Mr Katainen, 42, is one of several possible candidates of the centre-right European People’s party federation to succeed José Manuel Barroso as European Commission president late next year and his recent focus on southern Europe is seen by some diplomats as aimed at garnering their support.

Ah . . .

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