It would be simple to get on a high horse and start lecturing about the EU elections. Writing for a pan-European student news network, the benefits of greater communication in Europe are undoubtedly apparent to us. However across Europe, the EU as it is now, isn’t what the voters want. The European elections as they stand, are the white elephant of the political 21st century.
Voter turnout has fallen steadily across the continent, from a highpoint of 69% in the first elections, to 2009’s comparatively paltry 43%. Though it makes much of the news, and particularly recently encourages much debate, the UK’s indifference to the European elections is matched by France and even topped by the Czech Republic. Just 28% of Czechs deemed a trip to the polling booth in 2009 worth their time. In both Eastern and Western Europe, fringe parties are coming to the fore, a recent poll indicated somewhere in the region of 25% of this year’s incoming parliament may come from rejectionist parties.
So what does that say about Brussels and the MEPs? Not only that they’re failing to engage huge swathes of an electorate, but that when they do, the ones that make it to the polls actually don’t want them to exist at all.
So what can be done? The established parties claim that the populists don’t have to campaign with proper defined policies, that they can claim everything from stopping immigration to world peace without the worry of actually having to enact anything on a national level. The traditional viewpoint — of UKIP as ‘swivel-eyed loons’, of the French National Front as ultra-right nut-jobs (en Francais of course) — dismisses the very core of why they are seeing such support. The populist groups are having a resurgence, because the EU they’re trying to strive for, often represents the EU that people want. Whether we like it or not, the majority of citizens in the EU are unhappy with how it is now, and want the homogenisation of cultures and the business classes causing the stripping back of welfare states to stop. Those are issues that exist in every country, in every land, across the EU and that’s what needs to change.
As Pandeia has shown with our study of the bloc groups, the populists won’t work together, these ‘fringe’ parties don’t all come from the same point of view. Some want out of the EU completely, others have ridden themselves of their far-right tendencies, while some are scarily fascist. There is no possibility of these groups working together to rise up and cause some sort of coup. But that does not mean they should be discounted. These issues that they represent, the ones that do drag people to the polls come the end of May, they’re the issues that need to be front and centre of the political discussions. Until that happens, the EU will be resented and disdained from Dublin to Dresden.