THE BEAUTY OF democracy is that for every idea there will be someone opposing it and proposing something different. In the European election this dynamic is obviously at play. Each country can count between its parties at least a nationalist, if not totally Eurosceptic party.
Ironically enough, this is yet another aspect uniting some Europeans across the union: their apparent dislike of the EU. Some commentators think this election will see the largest number of Eurosceptic party members occupying seats in the Parliament, even though the exit polls in the Netherlands, where voting occurred on Thursday, show an unexpected slump of Wilder’s Freedom Party, which is aiming to forge an alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Front.
Whereas each party colours its agenda with nationalistic tints, the core issues that the parties propose in their programme are similar across countries. They blame the EU for the crisis, they want less immigration, less EU involvement in national affairs, oppose further integration, and in some instances even reject gay rights.
We chose to look at four countries to have a better idea of what kind of Eurosceptic forces.
According to the latest Eurobarometer research, Bulgarian society is fairly optimistic about the future of the European Union, with positive votes of up to 60 per cent. Public opinion in the country has repeatedly equated the EU with a bright future, low rates of unemployment and general prosperity, yet nationalist and Eurosceptic parties are a presence in the country, and provide Bulgarian media with news stories every day. Two of the most prominent nationalistic parties are Attack (Aтака) and Bulgaria without Censorship (България без цензура). The two parties were respectively created in 2005 and in 2014, and the leaders of both are well-known faces. Volen Siderov, the leader of Attack, had his own TV show before launching the party, while Barekov was the morning newsreader for one of the biggest TV stations in Bulgaria.
Being around for a longer time, Attack is a well-known party to anyone who has followed the country’s political life in the past ten years. Hardly a day passes without Siderov making a controversial speech which reverberates in the media. The party relies on nationalistic rhetoric, often disregarding or even openly attacking ethnic, gender and religious minorities in the country. The party’s European Parliament election manifesto proclaims Christian values, demands equal pay for Bulgarian and French farmers, and condemns gay-marriages, interracial relations and paedophilia. Another priority is “stopping the flood of Islamic aliens from entering the EU.” Social opinion polls from April says Attack will win between 3 and 5 per cent of the votes in the European Parliament elections.
In contrast, Barekov’s party, although only several months-old, has already gathered momentum with an estimated support ranging from around 5 up to 14 per cent. Created at the beginning of this year, BWC started with an ambitious proposal for an initiative suggestively named “Clean Hands”. Its aim is to create a new institution to trace down the origins of any property belonging to the political elite. The party argues for income-based taxation, decentralisation of local authorities, free tablets for students and free health-care for children up to 7 years old. Bulgaria Without Censorship also demands minimal pay according to EU’s standards, reviving the country’s railway system with EU funds and halving the number of MPs in the Bulgarian parliament. For the elections on May 25th, BWC formed a coalition with three of the oldest, but less-popular parties: the oldest nationalist political party in Bulgaria – IMRO, the National Agrarian Union, and the Movement Gergyovden.
Lesser known Eurosceptic parties include the Communist Union and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), which is a splinter group from Attack. The Communist Union argues for leaving the EU, while NFSB criticises the structure of the agglomeration. Both parties didn’t receive the necessary minimum of votes to enter parliament at the last national elections.
Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) have dominated the run up to the European elections. The party has grown to represent a genuine electoral challenge on the right of UK politics – mostly by advocating strong anti-EU rhetoric. Farage has managed to portray himself as a genuine alternative to the Westminster elite and has taken votes from all major parties, but most notably the Conservative Party.
The Conservatives are expected to suffer in the European and UK local elections as a result of this with some opinion polls even putting UKIP in first position. This has forced a shift to the right in the discourse of British politics, most notably over the issue of immigration and the question of the UK’s membership of the EU. The Conservatives backed stricter immigration rules over the lifting of labour restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. Furthermore, they have promised an ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU if they are re-elected and gain a majority in 2015.
This is all the result of UKIP, who have managed to tempt disenfranchised voters from the traditional Conservative Party and as such are expected to perform particularly well in these European elections.
The Polish National Movement was born during the independence marches that took part in Warsaw to celebrate Poland’s independence day on 11 November each year since 2010. It’s a broad coalition of nationalist organisations. Their main election slogan is “Radical change”. Nevertheless, EU topics do not dominate the political claims. The National Movement tries to present itself as the only credible eurosceptic political force – contrasting with the old ones of (as they say) “Lisbon right”. They stand-up for Europe of free nations, similar to the French Front National and Austrian Freedom Party. They have links with the far-right, ultra-nationalist Hungarian Jobbik party. In the past they even exchanged some European Parliamentary candidates – a Hungarian candidate in Poland and a Polish one in Hungary.
They also advocate a firmer defence of Polish national interests, especially in such fields as ecology and energy – mainly the Energy Package that might harm Poland as the biggest coal producer and consumer in the EU. They also campaign on social and ideological issues such as multiculturalism, LGBT, and gender. Finally, they want to renounce the Lisbon Treaty and oppose federalist tendencies in EU integration.
The eurosceptic voter finds quite a diverse range of choice in Italy. Hit by the crisis, affected by three government changes in a little more than a year, suspicious of being somehow manipulated by Germany, many Italians look at the EU with disaffection. On the whole, right wing parties have taken up the initiative to denounce what they see as Brussels’ interference in Italian politics; even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi himself has lent his voice to the choir of people dissatisfied with EU policies. In all these eurosceptic voices, the former comedian- turned political leader Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement is most distinct, despite rejecting the label of eurosceptic and calling itself “the only truly European force in Italy”.
The party is not quite as xenophobic and anti-EU as the Northern League, which is similar to Wilders’ and Marine Le Pen’s parties. However, the Five Star Movement gathers support from voters of all sides of the political spectrum proposing an Italy with a stronger voice in the EU and less financial control and austerity. The party proposes the adoption of the ‘Eurobond’ and rejects the fiscal compact and even calls for a referendum over staying in the Eurozone – they have been advocating for going back to the lira. This is a referendum which, according to Italian law, cannot be valid. This is because financial matters are not subjected to popular consultation according the Constitution. It is fair to say that the Five Star Movement is against the Euro more than against the EU, but as the party has not defined a clear position on many issues, like border security and immigration, furthermore it has not forged an alliance with any existing European party. They represent an interesting player in the European parliament, a Jolly that can be used both for and against the EU.
Sofia Lotto Persio
Collation by: Sofia Lotto Persio