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The Rise and Decline of Eurosceptic Parties and their Impact Within the EU

Submitted by on December 10, 2015 – 1:31 pm2 Comments

Even though some Eurosceptic parties in Europe have seen an ebb within support from voters recently, the changing political landscape could mean that their political presence and influence within the union might be irreversible.

Twisting and tearing at the fibres of the EU from within.

The 2008 recession formed a catalyst for Eurosceptic parties across the political spectrum on the continent. Support rose due to a number of factors such as the conditions of imposed austerity and dissatisfaction with the establishment ruling parties and their policies.

Yet currently some eurosceptic parties’ support is on the decline. Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, Front National (FN), who did not do as well as expected in the recent French local elections; Beppe Grillos’ populist Five Star Movement, in Italy, has seen a drop in support after the Democratic Party (PD) got into power last year; Nigel Farage, ex-Tory party supporter and leader of the British right-wing populist party Ukip, is licking his wounds after losing the predicted South Thanet seat, in Kent, to a conservative party candidate. Spain’s far-left Podemos party did not secure Andalucia, after losing the left-wing stronghold to the socialist party.

However according to Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, even these declines do not dampen the overall effect of eurosceptic parties. This is because voters are fed up and have lost faith in the usual political alternatives.

“Their [establishment parties] traditional voter base is never coming back.  Indeed, it might be better for parties to forget all about the idea of a set of core voters that they can rely on in perpetuity and think about how they assemble rather more temporary but not necessarily small coalitions of supporters right across society,” he said.

There are 28 member states in the EU, and within the European Parliament about one third of the 751 MEPS are eurosceptic. The parties that hold these eurosceptic views are divided by ideological lines and varied outlooks about Europe. Far-left parties like Greece’s governing party Syriza and the popular Podemos party in Spain can be termed as ‘soft’ eurosceptics. This means that rather than exiting the EU they want reforms to the current system. The ‘hard’ eurosceptics include the populist Five Star Movement, the right-wing populist Ukip, as well as far-right wing parties like FN and the Danish People’s Party (DPP), who retain views of abandoning the Euro and pulling out of the EU completely.

Opinions vary about the effect that eurosceptic parties would have on their own countries or on the fraying of the European fabric. Although the FN in France did not do as well as predicted in the recent local elections, this did not change the mind of the socialist French prime minister Manuel Valls. In an interview with iTele, Europe 1 and Le Monde in March he put out a question, “Do you think that a National Front that scores 25 per cent in European elections, maybe 30 per cent in local elections, and so on, cannot win the presidential election?” He continued his speech with a dire prediction that FN could win the election in two years time, stating that the win would be “a disaster” for France because then FN would be in an even better position to implement their far-right policies that include quitting the euro and the EU.

Greece’s Syriza party, who by default, might have to consider leaving the EU due to not being able to pay back debts to the EU, ECB and IMF. With the pressure of a Grexit a strong possibility, the European Commission’s economic chief, Pierre Moscovici, told the German magazine Der Spiegel in March that “… a Grexit would be a disaster for the Greek economy, but also for the whole Eurozone.”  Were a country to leave the eurozone it could spell the “beginning of the end.”

Raoul Ruparel, Head of Economic Research at British think-tank Open Europe, disagrees with the Grexit theory stating that only the exit of “any of the large state members would be a blow.” Those large member states are France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. So according to Ruparel a Grexit would not affect the European experiment.

When asked about the end of the EU, three academics replied similarly about it not being a possibility. “Death knell is too strong a phrase,” said Professor Tim Bale; Raoul Ruparel of Open Europe said that it is “hugely hypothetical and so hard to judge the impact.”

“I don’t think the end of the European Union is really a serious political possibility,” said Dr David Bailey, lecturer at the Department of Political Sciences at Birmingham University.

In 2014 Marine Le Pen joined forces with Geert Wilders far-right leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) to bring down “the monster in Brussels” by attempting to form an alliance with other like-minded parties who hold strong anti-immigrant and anti-EU views. The alliance never formed due to not having enough members and because Nigel Farage refused to join after he claimed the alliance was anti-Semitic. Farage ended up forming his own anti-establishment coalition instead.

So if eurosceptic parties are not thinking of exiting the European Parliament then if they stay where they are they could infiltrate from within. Tim Bale sums this up by stating that these parties would do more damage to the EU experiment by remaining “ … because they are likely to force mainstream parties to adjust to their own stances in a more Eurosceptic direction … ”

However it happens through infiltration or exit, euroscepticism is a big challenge and how it is dealt with depends on how the old established parties can adapt to this new political landscape.

















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