Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Magazine

The rise of anti-EU parties and the crisis of confidence

  • The respectable face of the far-right? The National Front's Jean Marie Le Pen and his daughter in the EU parliament (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

There was relative economic calm in 2013 after the euro's existential crisis of the previous year, but a different type of crisis started to emerge: rising anti-EU sentiment and collapsing political confidence.

Across the European Union, politicians have realised they can no longer dismiss parties which fundamentally dislike the EU as mere fringe movements.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Far-right, nationalist or anti-EU parties are expected to scoop a record number of seats in the European Parliament elections in May 2014.

It is a disparate group, but their common grievance is that "Brussels" is "dictating" people's lives and there is little they can do about it.

Polls in 2013 indicated that most French and Dutch seats in the EU assembly could go to France's far-right National Front and the Netherlands' anti-immigrant Freedom Party.

It is hard to imagine a bigger set-back in symbolic terms: Both countries are founding EU states.

Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader, and the Freedom Party's Geert Wilders, two of the most savvy leaders in the anti-EU camp, have pledged to create a pan-European "patriotic" party.

Similar parties in Austria (Freedom Party), Belgium (Vlaams Belang), Italy (Lega Nord) and Sweden (Swedish Democrats) have said they will come on board.

If they attract 27 MEPs from seven different countries, they will become an official group in the EU parliament, entitled to funding and to chair committees.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn from Greece is set to enter the EU assembly for the first time and its Hungarian equivalent, Jobbik, is likely to increase its number of seats.

Britain's eurosceptic Ukip party could come top in the vote next May. The anti-EU True Finns party is polling second and the Danish People's Party is the third largest in the country. Even Germany has a newly formed anti-euro party, the AfD.

Meanwhile, broader trust in the EU is at an all time low.

A survey in Spring showed that the number of people who do not trust the EU institutions has soared between 2007 and 2012. The change in Spain were starkest - from 23 percent to 72 percent.

A common theme is hostility to immigrants. But the psychology and politics of migration is rarely dealt with at the EU level, where people tend to concentrate on technical adherence to EU rules.

There are other issues too.

The economic crisis saw EU countries give the European Commission powerful new tools to scrutinise member states' budgets.

But the change, which has profound implications for national sovereignty, was made with almost no public debate at the national level.

National elections come and go with as good as no mention of the EU, even in Germany, which paid the most to stop the euro from falling apart.

Politicians also continue to play the old game of agreeing something unpopular in Brussels and then undermining it at home.

As the EU heads into 2014, it finds itself in a peculiar situation: Fearful of the surge in anti-EU sentiment, but unable to find a compelling counter-narrative. Granting more power to Brussels, but without democratic mandate.

It all bodes ill for mobilising a generation of young voters to go to the polls in May.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.

Magazine

2014: Changing of the guard in the EU

As the EU heads into 2014, it is clear its economic woes are not over. But it is election year and Brussels will be distracted.

EU commission plans bolstering rule of law toolbox

As EU concerns over rule of law in some member states grow, the commission opens a debate on tools to discipline unruly member states. The EU executive has launched a new probe against Poland, and put Romania on the spot.

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us