EU-wide protest movements set for gains in European elections

28.01.14 @ 18:56

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - Protest movements are emerging throughout the EU as more people reject established party politics in the lead up to the European Parliament elections, say researchers.

  • Far-right and far-left groups are set to gain seats in the European Parliament, predict experts (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

“People no longer trust the system of party politics as being the best the way of doing democracy,” said Jamie Bartlett from the British think tank Demos at a debate organised by the Open Society European Policy Institute on Monday (27 January).

Preliminary predictions by Brussels-based VoteWatch Europe, based on current trends in the polls, suggest that far-right parties could end up with around 100 MEPs following the May poll.

Around 50 seats are predicted to go to far-left groups. The estimates are based on current polls and assume conditions do not change between now and the vote.

VoteWatch Europe is set to launch a ‘pollwatch’ service at the end of February that will aggregate polls from across the 28 member states and filter them through other data sets for greater precision.

Bartlett, who researched anti-establishment movements in over a dozen member states, said confidence in national and European democracy is falling but not the willingness to participate in politics itself.

“There is just a lack of confidence and a lack of trust in the way it is being done at the moment,” he said.

One such movement may be found in Bulgaria where people have rallied against what they see as government-led corruption backed by biased media.

Described by supporters as a citizen’s movement, the so-called #ДАНСwithme (Dance with Me) was launched last June in response to the nomination of the 33-year old son of a media mogul to head the state national security agency.

‘Dance with Me’ supporter and Bulgarian activist and writer Peter Valchovski told this website that the movement is not connected to any political party.

“We want new elections, but first we want the government to resign,” he said.

Bartlett’s analysis of broader protest movements across the EU found the vast majority are also isolated from mainstream politics.

Only 5 percent of their supporters expressed any trust in their national governments, according to his study, which looked at thousands of Facebook supporters across a dozen movements.

Traditional media outlets and large institutions like the United Nations and the EU are also shunned.

Instead the Internet is seen as the only valid medium because it allows people to filter and seek out their own information.

“The Internet is consistently the most trusted institution for these parties,” he said.

More non-mainstream parties also tend toward new forms of communication like social media outlets, he noted.

Italian comedian turned politician Beppe Grillo of the Five-Star movement has 1.36 million Twitter followers, more than any other politician in Europe.

Meanwhile, a sense of pessimism about the social and political future is common.

Other shared features include social media being used as a gateway towards more offline politics.

Bartlett, for his part, also rejects the notion that austerity and the economic crisis are the primary reasons behind far-right movements.

He pointed out that crisis hit member states like Portugal, Spain and Ireland have no serious far-right parties unlike in wealthier member states, such as Sweden.

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