Tuesday

17th Jul 2018

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.

... our join as a group

  • Wilders visiting the royal palace in the Netherlands (Photo: Roel Wijnants)

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.

Analysis

Will Austria's presidency give EU a populist push?

As Sebastian Kurz's government takes over the helm of EU-policy making for the next six months, Austrian MEPs from opposing sides weigh in on the EU's youngest prime minister's possible influence on the continent's future.

Interview

EU populists not actually that 'popular', says global activist

"The populists are not popular. It's 14 percent of the vote in Germany and smaller percentages in other countries," says global campaigner Ricken Patel, considering to use his organisation, Avaaz, to raise turnout in next year's European parliament elections.

Interview

EU populists not actually that 'popular', says global activist

"The populists are not popular. It's 14 percent of the vote in Germany and smaller percentages in other countries," says global campaigner Ricken Patel, considering to use his organisation, Avaaz, to raise turnout in next year's European parliament elections.

Opinion

Rutte - from 'Mr No' to 'next Tusk'?

Make no mistake – Rutte, sometimes considered as a potential candidate to succeed Donald Tusk, is one of the toughest of the EU's current heads of state.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. Putin asks Trump to go after British activist
  2. May caves in to Brexiteer demands, risking 'no deal'
  3. EU and China agree on words, not yet on action
  4. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  5. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  6. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  7. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  8. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us