Victory of Eurosceptic parties bodes ill for EU's future

While India was glued to the television watching the oath-taking pageantry of Mr Narendra Modi - the outsider who stormed into Delhi - Europe was waking up to stunning election results of its own. In nearly a dozen countries, extremist parties hostile to immigration and the European Union's pro-globalisation policies were elected to the European Parliament, some crushing incumbent parties. Europe's anaemic growth, unemployment and disillusionment with existing policies fuelled the rebellion. It was not unlike the anti-incumbent anger that propelled India's rightist Bharatiya Janata Party to power.

The similarities end there, however. Eurosceptic parties are not about to take over the reins of any country. Ironically, they got themselves elected to a parliament they vow to dismantle. Yet, their victory signals the anger of the electorate and sends warning signals to not just European governments but to the world.

The anti-immigrant National Front, which wants France to withdraw from the EU, won 25 per cent of the votes, thoroughly routing Mr Francois Hollande's ruling Socialist Party and the conservative UMP of Mr Nicolas Sarkozy. Equally spectacular was the victory of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which campaigned to take Britain out of the EU. It secured the highest percentage of votes, defeating both the Tory and Labour parties.

The sense of disarray was heightened by the introduction of some of Europe's notorious neo- Nazi parties, like Greece's Golden Dawn and Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD). Golden Dawn has been associated with murders of brown-skinned immigrants, and the NPD has described Europe as "a continent of white people". Parties virulently opposed to immigration, like the Danish People's Party, Dutch Freedom Party and Hungary's right- wing nationalist party Jobbik, have boosted extreme right presence in the European Parliament.

The fact that the so-called Eurosceptics may constitute a third of the 766-member European Parliament means the fear of public backlash that they may provoke through their opposition could render legislation on immigration or trade issues more difficult.

Perhaps, the most significant development has been the rise of the National Front led by Ms Marine Le Pen, daughter of its anti- Semitic founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 2002, Mr Le Pen caused a stir by winning second place in the presidential elections. Since then, the party's support has gone up from 9 per cent to over 25 per cent. Given the widespread disillusionment and pessimism among the liberal voters (60 per cent of voters did not bother to vote), his daughter's dream of winning the Elysee Palace is no longer unthinkable.

Her simple solution to France's deep-seated problems - taking France out of the EU and closing the door to foreigners - can be mocked by liberals, but seems attractive to many left behind by the modern economy. Her party won 43 per cent of the workers' votes and 37 per cent of the votes of the unemployed.

Even if France's National Front or Britain's UKIP cannot grab power, their growing influence could pressure the ruling centrist parties to take a more hardline stance on EU integration and especially on immigration and trade liberalisation. The May electoral storm could end up creating an internally divided fortress Europe.

The writer is editor-in-chief of YaleGlobal Online, published by the MacMillan Centre, Yale University.

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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