26th Mar 2019

EU watches as angry UK kicks off EU elections

  • Anger over the parliamentary expenses scandal in Westminister is set to be reflected in the EU vote (Photo: wikipedia)

The rest of Europe has been watching agog at the buildup of an almost insurrectionary feeling in the UK following revelations of MPs' abuses of the expenses system. The outpouring of anger could have significant implications for EU politics, as Britons unleash their fury via the ballot box and opposition parties call for an early general election.

The UK, along with the Netherlands, will kick off voting in the European elections and local elections on Thursday (4 June), with the governing Labour party facing the prospect of its worst electoral defeat in history.

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The beleaguered Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, charged with reacting too slowly and then inadequately to the unfolding scandal, has been buffeted further in recent days by announcements that four members of his government, including two ministers, are leaving.

The weakened government has emboldened the opposition Conservatives, who feel 10 Downing Street is within their grasp sooner rather than later.

Conservative leader David Cameron on Wednesday in a rowdy parliamentary question time renewed his call for an early general election, saying the "government was collapsing before our eyes."

"Get down to the palace. Ask for a dissolution, call an election," he told Mr Brown.

Dissolution debate next Wednesday

The momentum for the early vote is gathering pace, with leaders of the small nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, saying they will table a motion for a dissolution of parliament next Wednesday. The Liberals, the UK's third largest party, have backed the proposed move.

The motion will be the first time MPs will formally express an opinion on whether there should be an early vote.

Support for the move is likely to be further strengthened if Labour receives the drumming in the polls on Thursday that has been widely predicted.

Meanwhile, a quick early general election, which would most likely return the Conservatives to power after twelve years in opposition, could radically alter the prospects of the EU treaty coming into place.

If he wins the keys to Downing Street, Mr Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it has not yet been ratified by the rest of the EU. As a testing ground ahead of Thursday elections, he has already tabled a bill to say the referendum would be held on the same day as Ireland holds its second referendum on the document, expected in October.

As one of the most eurosceptic nations in the EU and seen as being against the further integration that the Lisbon Treaty would entail, it is likely that the UK would reject it.

Such a move would sound the death knell for the treaty and would plunge the EU into renewed talk of a two-speed Europe.

The other winners

As Britons head to the polls, all eyes will be on the expected smaller winners of the frenzy of discontent that has gripped the county for the past weeks.

The UK Independence Party, advocating withdrawal from the EU, says it aims to double its MEPs from the current nine.

Opinion polls give the party between 10 and 20 percent of the vote, while the far-right British National Party may get its first seat in Brussels.

A good showing by Mr Cameron's Conservatives - who want to set up their own eurosceptic group in the European Parliament along with Czech, Polish, Latvian and Bulgarian parties - as well as by Ukip would give more clout to eurosceptics than they currently have in the EU assembly.

The UK Greens are also expected to profit from voters disgust with mainstream parties and to achieve their best ever EU result on Thursday.

Politicians in Europe have been urging voters across the EU not to register their discontent with governing parties by voting for extreme right or extreme left parties, with EU votes often perceived as a useful no-consequences stick with which to beat incumbent governments.

"It is up to individuals how to vote, but I am asking citizens ... to counter extremism and at least vote for a stronger Europe. Those that believe in common values and are pro-European need to mobilise themselves," outgoing European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering told Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion survey commissioned by the EU assembly shows the downward voter turnout trend of every previous EU election may be bucked this week. It reached a low of 45.3 percent in 2004 but the parliament poll suggests it may rise to 49 percent this time round.

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Pressure on UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to resign is growing, after another minister quit his government on Thursday and with his Labour party expected to show a disastrous result in Thursday's EU and local elections.

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All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

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