Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

Focus

EU leaders digest anti-establishment vote

  • Barroso: 'If you spend all week blaming Europe, you can’t ask people to vote for Europe on Sunday' (Photo: European Council)

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (27 May) are still digesting the result of EU elections, which saw anti-establishment parties winning in Britain, France, Belgium, Greece, and Denmark and making gains in several other countries.

Commenting on the outcome, which saw the far-right National Front scoop most of the French votes on Sunday, President Francois Hollande said it reflects "distrust in Europe and a fear of decline".

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He seemed to have drawn few personal consequences from the vote, however, which put his Socialist party in third place on a bruising 13.9 percent.

Instead, he blamed Europe, for having become "incomprehensible", and weak economic growth. "At tomorrow's Council, I'll reiterate that growth, jobs and investment must be the priority," he said in a brief address on national TV on Monday evening.

"I am a European, it is my duty to reform France and re-focus Europe."

Reformist rhetoric came also from Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, where the anti-EU and anti-immigrant United Kingdom Independence Party won the elections for the first time in its history.

Cameron on Monday worked the phones with Berlin, Dublin, Stockholm, Slovakia and Riga to gather support for his reading of the EU vote: that there can be "no business as usual". He was scarce on the details.

"The turnout and results in the EP elections have underlined the need for reform to ensure that the EU is doing more to deliver what voters care about: jobs, growth and a better future," Downing Street said in a press statement.

"Fellow leaders have agreed that it is an important moment for the European Council to set out its view on the future of the EU and provide clear direction of what is expected from the next European Commission."

Earlier in the day, Cameron told the BBC that he "absolutely received and understood" the message from the EU elections: "People are deeply disillusioned with the EU. They don't feel the current arrangements are working well enough for Britain and they want change."

Meanwhile, in Belgium, Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo will meet his fellow leaders as a caretaker PM after the king accepted his resignation following the victory of the separatist Flemish party N-VA. Belgian national elections coincided with EU elections, with Di Rupo's Socialists scoring less in Wallonia than the N-VA in Flanders.

Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also a Socialist and a potential candidate for an EU top post, is coming to Brussels in a weakened position, as her party was defeated by the nationalist, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party, which won the elections on Sunday.

Thorning-Schmidt, who was recently booed on stage during a Socialist rally on May Day, said she was unhappy with the result, but congratulated DPP for its victory and said that "with many votes comes also a great responsibility".

As for the DPP, its lead MEP Morten Messerschmidt said that they want to "pull Europe in another direction, namely in the British direction". He said Cameron's party was a potential partner in the European Parliament.

In Greece, where the left-wing, anti-establishement Syriza party came in first, the Prime Minister said he sees no need for early elections as demanded by Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.

Germany, where a newly founded anti-euro party (AfD) scored better than expected (7%), scooping votes from Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners, is drawing its own conclusions.

Speaking in a press conference on Monday, Merkel said that the vote – which confirmed her Christian-Democratic Union as the strongest party – was "an important signal to Europe" and that with the "stronger fragmentation, we have difficulties as big parties, but overall we are happy with the result".

Merkel ruled out any cooperation with AfD, but said there is a need to reach out to its voters.

"We have to make clear what we stand for, to take into account the fears of those who didn’t vote for us. We have to take care of the voters, of course," she said.

Her coalition partner, Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the Social-Democrats, in a parallel press conference said the election result reflects the view that "Europe is an elite project, too remote from the citizens" and that the only way to counter this image would be for the next EU commission president to be elected from the "Spitzenkandidaten" put forward by political parties.

Commenting on the outcome of the EU elections, Karel Lannoo from the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, told this website it was "a disaster for Europe" and a reaction to the intergovernmentalism and backroom deals which became the norm during the euro crisis.

"We need more European Union, more openness and democracy, not less," Lannoo said.

For his part, the outgoing head of the EU commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, told a European Central Bank conference in Portugal that he is "extremely concerned" by the vote result and blamed leaders for being complicit in stirring up anti-European sentiments.

"If you spend all week blaming Europe, you can't ask people to vote for Europe on Sunday," he said, according to the Financial Times.

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