Elections to European Parliament Create 'Political Earthquake'

Parties skeptical of the EU have made large inroads into the European parliament this week, but they haven't won enough seats to seriously derail the Brussels machinery. What's more, there are significant ideological and political differences between the various parties that make up the euro-skeptical hodgepodge.

Among the most successful ones in the recent election we find Nigel Farage's UKIP, which apart from its anti-immigration stance appears to have a fairly strong libertarian bent, the Front National (FN) in France, which is essentially a nationalist socialist party (mind, we are not trying to say they are 'Nazis', only that their program is both nationalistic and socialistic), and Syriza in Greece, which is an alliance of far-left movements. Somehow we don't see Nigel Farage having much in common with Alexis Tsipras.

Beppe Grillo's Five Star moment took 21% of the vote in Italy, but fell a bit short of expectations. In Spain, the new Podemos party received 8% of the vote, while the established parties all lost about one third relative to the last EU election. Even in Germany, where the established parties retained a comfortable  majority, the euro-skeptic AfD scored a respectable 7%.

Naturally, no-one was surprised by Syriza's victory, which was foreshadowed by polls in Greece ever since the ND-PASOK coalition took power. The success of UKIP in the UK and the FN in France wasn't a surprise as such either, but the extent of their success certainly was. Marine Le Pen's FN bulldozed not only France's establishment parties, it also seems to have taken votes from the far-left led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Voters humiliated Francois Hollande's government by delivering a stern rebuke; the socialists landed only in distant third place. A brief summary of the election outcome in France:

 

“Marine Le Pen unleashed a political earthquake in France on Sunday night, after her National Front party topped the poll in the European elections.

With the polls closed, exit polls indicated that Le Pen's National Front party had won its first ever nation-wide election, with 25 percent of the vote, electing 25 of France's 74 MEPs. Following the vote, Le Pen immediately called for President Francois Hollande to dissolve the French parliament and call fresh elections.

Hollande's governing Socialist party received a drubbing from voters, picking up just 15 percent. Meanwhile, the centre-right UMP, traditionally the dominant force in French politics, also fared poorly, securing 20 percent.

Elsewhere, the liberal Movement for Democracy party claimed 10 percent of the vote, followed by the Greens on 9 percent, and Jean-Luc Melanchon's Left Front taking a mere 6 percent. The

(emphasis added)

 

A shocked Manuel Valls (France's new prime minister) reacted by immediately announcing  tax cuts. According to Reuters:

 

“French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the breakthrough by Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front, which topped a national vote for the first time and pushed his Socialists into third place, a political "earthquake". He sought to counter her immediately by offering more tax cuts to spur an economy which is flatlining.”

 

So the election result has at least produced one positive effect already: France's struggling wealth creators and citizens will get a little bit of tax relief. In spite of its skepticism of the EU, we are obviously not very big fans of the FN, but as this example shows, its victory could nevertheless spur positive changes. Mr. Hollande meanwhile was noted in a televised speech that “the European Union should withdraw itself from areas where it is not necessary." He did not supply a definition of what exactly he deems 'necessary', but it sure sounded a bit like 'who needs the EU anyway?'

 

manuel-valls-et-francois-hollande-10975172oxxld_1713Consternation as Valls and Hollande get the bad news.

(AFP screenshot)

 

 

Marine Le Pen

FN leader Marine Le Pen. The poster behind her proclaims the Front National as 'France's leading party', and this time it was definitely true.

(ARD screenshot)

 

UKIP Conquers Albion

We certainly think more highly of Mr. Farage and UKIP than of France's FN.  UKIP is a euro-skeptical party that supports a number of libertarian positions, although it cannot truly be classified as a classical-liberal party (the UK blog 'Libertarian Alliance' calls it a 'step in the right direction', Emile Yussupoff urges caution, Reason notes its problematic views on immigration). UKIP's anti-immigration stance is unfortunate and at odds with its pro free trade stance (for an overview of the party's positions see here). If there are any aspects of the EU that seem praiseworthy, they are precisely the things that the founders of the European Community wanted to restore after the disastrous experiments with extreme nationalism and socialism that led to the horrors of WW2; namely, free trade, and free movement of capital and people. Prior to WW1, all of these basic freedoms were considered quite normal features of Europe.

Nevertheless, the 'subsidiarity principle', which UKIP wholeheartedly supports, is definitely worthy of support as well. The more centralization and 'harmonization' there is in the EU, the less regulatory and tax competition there will be and the worse the average citizen will ultimately be off. UKIP rightly condemns the often bizarre rules emanating from the faceless bureaucracy in Brussels. Its nationalism meanwhile seems mainly a reaction to the creeping centralization of the EU. Its leader Nigel Farage has established himself as the most vocal and eloquent critic of the emerging socialist super-state in Europe.

UKIP has so far not managed to gain seats in the UK House of Commons, mainly due to the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system. It did however gain quite a few seats in municipal councils in local elections in the UK (it went from having 7 council members to more than 140). Its EP election victory was of an order of magnitude that seemed not to have been expected though, and it has left the UK political establishment shaken to the core. For the first time since WW1, neither the Tories nor Labor were able to win a national election. The Liberal Democrats who are in coalition with the Tories were practically wiped out (at the end of the day, only one of their formerly 12 MEPs survived the election):

 

“Nigel Farage has unleashed his much-promised political earthquake across British politics as Ukip stormed to victory in the European elections, performing powerfully across the country.

The Eurosceptic party's victory marked the first time in modern history that neither Labour nor the Conservatives have won a British national election.

In a stunning warning to the established political parties, Ukip was on course to win as much as 28% of the national poll. That is a near doubling of the 16.5% it secured in the last European elections in 2009, when it came second to the Tories with 13 seats. Twenty years ago, in its first European election, Ukip managed 1% of the vote.

The Liberal Democrats suffered a near-total wipeout losing all but one of its 11 MEPs and placing serious pressure on Nick Clegg to justify his leadership of his party as its share of the national vote was 7 %.”

 

(emphasis added)

Not surprisingly, Nigel Farage promptly predicted far-reaching consequences. It also seems likely now that UKIP will finally make inroads into Westminster as well in the next UK general election. 

 

“Farage said the result justified the description of an earthquake because "never before in the history of British politics has a party seen to be an insurgent party ever topped the polls in a national election".

He claimed voters had "delivered about the most extraordinary result that has been seen in British politics for 100 years and I am proud to have led them to that." The Ukip leader predicted that as a consequence: "We may well see one party leader forced out of his position and another to reconsider his policy of opposition to a referendum on Europe, and David Cameron will have to take a much tougher negotiating stance. It is now not beyond the bounds of possibility that we hold the balance of power in another hung parliament."

 

(emphasis added)

It is worth noting by the way that UKIP achieved gains in Scotland and Wales as well, regions in which it previously wasn't very successful. In a speech following the election, Farage remarked with regards to the leaders of the establishment parties:

 

“They all look a little bit like goldfish, that have just been tipped out of the bowl onto the floor.  Desperately gasping for air, and clinging on to the comfort blanket  that this was just a protest vote.”

 

 

Nigel Farage's victory speech

 

Farage is of course best known for mocking various eurocrats and not shying away from insulting them. If you should feel pity for Herman van Rompuy being raked over the coals ('you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a lowly bank clerk'), rest assured that his salary and perks have likely provided him with a sufficiently thick skin, even though he looked a bit stricken on the occasion.

 

Farage's classic comments on van Rompuy's nomination

 

To get a better idea of how the political elites of Europe have no problem running roughshod over democratic decisions that go against them, look at the next video which shows the reactions to Ireland voting 'No' to the Lisbon treaty. Especially instructive is Swedish socialist Margot Wallström, blathering on about the 'political capital' the EU's political elites have 'invested' in the Brussels Moloch (where else have we heard that phrase?). To this we can only say: who cares? This is a bit similar to the argument about the 'political weight' the EU can throw around on the world stage (contrary to that of the individual member states). Why should any citizen who is not a member of the political-bureaucratic elite care one whit about that?

Of course that little 'problem' with Ireland was solved with the same method that was employed in France and the Netherlands when votes went against the commission's wishes – the vote was simply repeated until the eurocrats got the result they wanted.

 

The best part comes at the end when Barroso compare the EU project to the 'creation of an empire' (paraphrasing his slightly broken English here).

 

Conclusion:

The election proves that the EU project, such as it is, is increasingly running into trouble. It will be interesting to see how the EU's political elites will go about dealing with this. In 2001, when Romano Prodi was president of the European Commission, he famously admitted in an interview with the FT:

 

I am sure the euro will oblige us to introduce a new set of economic policy instruments. It is politically impossible to propose that now. But some day there will be a crisis and new instruments will be created.

 

In other words, the EU's centralizers were actually hoping that there would be a crisis which they thought they could exploit to impose their agenda against the wishes of the sheep (the sheep are paying their salaries, but have exercised very little real power over their 'employees' thus far). Note here that the liberalization agenda has been fulfilled long ago: there is a common market. Goods and services, capital and people are allowed to move freely within it. At most an institution that ensures that these liberties are safeguarded might be required. Turning Greece into a quasi-protectorate just to keep it muddling on as a member of the euro area in a kind of deliberate protraction of insolvency seems rather far removed from the original 'European dream' (which the centralizers love to invoke often and loudly, see the video above).

Obviously, there were always people with long-range goals that went far beyond restoring the liberal traditions of 19th century Europe. It seems though that they may have miscalculated. For one thing, the democratic deficits of the 'club' are becoming more widely recognized (the latest on that score were news regarding  the coup that removed Berlusconi in 2011. Since we enjoyed his antics and were impressed by his great entertainment value, we felt cheated).

Meanwhile the euro area debt crisis, which – however briefly – unmasked the faux prosperity resting on the Ponzi scheme of sovereign debt and fractional reserve banking and pushed millions into penury, has turned out to be a double-edged sword for the centralization faction. Although steps toward greater centralization were indeed taken, the sheep are now evidently disenchanted enough to voice their displeasure at the voting booths. Considering that e.g. the Greek ruling coalition government has a razor thin majority of two in parliament, there is moreover the danger of crisis conditions returning with little warning.

There are two ways in which the elites may handle this little revolt: a) they may choose to ignore it, in the hope that economic recovery will eventually paper over the discontent. Or b), they may react along the lines of prime minister Cameron in the UK and president Hollande in France. In both countries, the political establishment is suddenly in grave danger of being booted out of power by upstarts. Since the EU has been identified as the reason for this untoward development, they may decide that it is time to downgrade the EU and its powers by a notch or two. How did Hollande put it? “The EU  should withdraw itself from  areas where it is not necessary ”. That could prove to be a very long list.

 

 

wolf_in_sheeps_clothing

Sheep in a rare instance of high-level strategizing.

 

 

 

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One Response to “UKIP and FN Shake Up EU Establishment”

  • No6:

    I agree with your comments regarding UKIP and immigration but to be generous to Mr Farage, it is not really possible to enact a free immigration policy in a welfare state, something I believe he does want to affect.

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