Tag Archives: UKIP

What’s Italy’s new protest party doing with UKIP?

The EU elections marked a rise of the European right almost everywhere, with Italy as a notable exception – leaving anti-establishment Five Star Movement struggling to figure out where it stands as it joins Nigel Farage’s group in the EU parliament.

Despite the arguments the decision raised among the Five Star Movement’s voters, the alliance is done: 78% of the the 29.584 registered Five Star Movement members who took part to the online poll said yes to having their 17 members in the European Parliament join UKIP in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group. A decision Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader and EFD Group President, was extremely satisfied with.

Farage, who’s been working to gather like-minded MEPs from several countries – but refused to open up to Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party – says he’s “delighted” by Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement decision to join with UKIP in the EU Parliament.

“I am very proud to have formed this Group with other MEPs and we undertake to be the peoples’ voice,” he says. The group includes MEPs from Czech Republic’s Party of Free Citizens, Latvia’s Latvian Farmers’ Union, Lithuania’s Order and Justice and the Sweden Democrats. There will also be independent MEP Joëlle Bergeron, former Front National candidate.

Former comedian Beppe Grillo, creator of Italy’s Five Star Movement, has called the vote “a great victory for direct democracy”.

There was more to the decision than simply choosing whether or not to join a group in the EU Parliament: it was also a matter of choosing a side after a long time spent claiming to be “beyond left and right” – and after an unexpected defeat at the European elections.

Born out of public outcry against the corruption and inadequacy of traditional parties, the Five Star Movement reaped a stunning success in Italy’s general elections in 2013, becoming the third main political force. Few people hid the fact theirs was a “vote to protest”: a vote to the Five Star Movement as an act of protest against conventional parties and politicians. Elected members of the party took their seat at the Parliament while promising to “open it up like a tin can”.

About a year and a half later, they seem to have failed to do as much. Keeping itself isolated from other parties, the Five Stars Movement did give voice to its voters’ protests – but, aside from that, it seemed to be getting little else done. Its base of support encompassing people from both right and left wing ideologies, the party also had to deal with many internal contradictions from the start.

On the other hand, aided by a general leniency of Italian press, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi excelled at giving out just the right image of himself in the past months: that of a young politician working fast to get Italy out of recession.

As a result, the Five Star Movement was soundly defeated at the European elections – losing almost three millions of votes since 2013 and only reaching 21% of votes against Renzi’s Democratic Party’s 40.8%.

The centre-left Democratic Party’s victory came as a surprise, and it was a huge shock for the Five Stars Movement, which had hoped to come very close to the Democratic Party or even to surpass it. The election’s outcome didn’t only mark the failure to surpass their biggest opponent: it changed everything most of the party’s arguments were based on. After over a year spent claiming old parties were “dead”, that the government – nominated and never elected – was not legitimated by vote and that only the Five Stars Movement represented the people, Grillo’s party is suddenly unable to use any of those arguments. Joining the EFD group may be a first step to recover by gaining influence in Europe.

Still, the alliance may not lack difficult moments, and not only because the many left-wing supporters of the Five Star Movement may not appreciate the turn to the right. There are several key points – immigration, energy policy and financial regulation being just few – where the Five Star Movement’s programme vastly differs from UKIP’s. And the Five Star Movement is well aware of it: the party’s MEPs are arguing that the group shouldn’t be sitting on the right side of the Parliament. MEP Ignazio Corrao says: “I don’t want to spend all the time explaining over and over that we have nothing to do with the right.”

The problem was clear even before this issue presented itself : shortly before the European elections took place, Grillo expressed appreciations for Alexis Tsipras’ ideas – going as far as saying that the president of Greece’s Syriza-United Social Front was “saying the same things” as the Five Star Movement. And yet Tsipras’ vision of Europe’s future couldn’t possibly be farther away from Nigel Farage’s UKIP.

Written by Alessandra Pacelli
Picture Credit: gruppo.it

Cross-section Euroscepticism

Xesc Arbona

Xesc Arbona

Euroscepticism and the far-right were on everyone’s lips ahead of the elections last week. However, while the anti-EU parties certainly made gains across Europe not all countries sent such a strong message to the European parliament.

Three countries who were all expected to send a strong anti-EU message all had different results. Italy, the Netherlands and the UK all voted and had different reactions to the expected wave of support for the Eurosceptics.

Italy: A victory for the mainstream

40.8 per cent of the vote went to the center-left Democratic Party (PD) of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The Five Star Movement (M5S), facing its first European election, emerged as the second biggest party, with about 21 per cent of the votes, followed by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which still manages to convince 16 per cent of the voters. The left-wing Italian list supporting Tsipras’ “Other Europe” scores a modest 4 per cent, still enough to send three MEPs to Strasbourg.

Palazzo Chigi

Palazzo Chigi

Even in Italy, the Democratic Party’s (PD) striking victory came as a surprise, as media and pollsters had predicted a close run between their party and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S). For the PD, a party which was born in 2007 from the union of Social and Christian Democrats, this is a record victory in its history and the second biggest in the history of modern Italy.

The party is also the biggest winner in Europe, winning 31 seats, even more than Merkel’s CDU in Germany, which took 29. This is an incredible result considering PD’s reputation as a “loser” party, especially following the Pyrrhic victory achieved in the 2013 national parliamentary elections. This was when Bersani did win a majority, but was unable to form a government coalition. It’s strange to see such election results following those events.

One key factor is Matteo Renzi. Disliked by the hardcore left for being too centrist, Renzi’s charisma conquered instead the moderate voters who are not anti-immigration like Salvini’s Northern League, who agree with the capitalist market system unlike Tsipras’ Other Europe, who are honest unlike Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and who dislike Grillo’s Five Star Movement’s loud and simplistic slogans.

Despite not having accomplished many of the promises he made upon becoming Prime Minister, Renzi’s aura of optimism and “can-do” attitude, so reminiscent of 1994 Berlusconi, is well received by the Italian electorate who simply cannot resist the charm of a leader presenting himself as a natural born winner.

The Democratic Party was also the only party in Italy belonging to the European Socialist Party, supporting Martin Schulz’s bid for EU Commissioner. Instead, the M5S refused to support a candidate to the Commission or join an existing parliamentary group, declining Marine Le Pen’s invitation. However, a parliamentary group needs to have at least 25 members from at least seven countries, so the M5S’s members would have just sat between those in the  “mixed group,” thus leaving them with limited influence. In a European election, voting for a party is more than expressing a preference at the national level, and people voting PD might have recognised that.

Renzi is likely to seek a prestigious role for Italy in the new EP, perhaps with an Italian becoming President of the European Parliament (the post previously occupied by Martin Schulz) or in the future Commission. In July, Renzi will also become President of the European Council as Italy takes over the leadership from Greece. This may be the time for a stronger Italian influence in Europe. But as in Italy, politics always comes second to football, in the next month Italians will look at Brazil: if the azzurri win the World Cup, Renzi’s popularity may soar way above 40%.

By Sofia Lotto Persio

Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ stumbles

Roel Wijnants

Roel Wijnants

Dutch political parties had 26 seats to sort during the elections last week. Ahead of the elections, the battle seemed to centre around a pro-European and an anti-European party: D66 (Democrats) and the PVV  the far-right, party led by Geert Wilders. However, exit polls showed that it was the Christian Democrats of the CDA that came out ahead. Thanks to an alliance with other Dutch Christian parties, the CDA won an additional fifth seat, whereas D66 and PVV obtained four each. D66 gained a seat, while PVV lost one compared to the 2009 elections. Another winner is the PvdD, the Party for Animals. For the first time in history, a party that focuses on animal rights gained a seat in the European Parliament.

Wilders’ PVV joined forces with the French Front Nationale, but as the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant suggests, it remains to be seen if these two parties can find other allies in the European Parliament. The British UKIP and the Italian populist party run by Beppe Grillo are not interested in joining Front Nationale in an anti-European alliance. De Volkskrant quotes its EU correspondent in saying that “experience shows that among this kind of [anti-European] parties, egos are slightly bigger than election victories.”

By Lisanne Oldekamp

United Kingdom: Farage humiliates the establishment

In stark comparison to the election results in Italy and the Netherlands, there has been a sharp rise in support for the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) which won over 30 per cent of the popular vote.

European Parliament

European Parliament

This was a remarkable election and has rattled a few cages among the main parties in the UK. The Conservatives have criticised Europe and some of their MPs have called for a promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union to be brought forward.

Meanwhile, the centre-left parties of Labour and the Liberal Democrats had mixed fortunes. The Labour party narrowly beat the Conservatives to second place, but remained a long way behind UKIP. The Liberal Democrats suffered a massive defeat losing ten of their eleven MEPs and falling into fifth place behind the much smaller, a less well-funded Green Party.

The rise in support for UKIP has been blamed on the inability of British political parties to represent ordinary people following the financial crisis and tough austerity measures which has squeezed many in the UK. This has also been linked to a rise in anti-EU rhetoric among the main parties, most notably the Conservatives, as UKIP begins to steal voters from the main three parties.

Another important factor is the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, who has managed to portray himself as an ordinary person who knows what the electorate want. Criticisms have been made of this image – both regarding Farage’s privileged past and his parties electoral policies which are strongly right wing – however the protest vote appears to believe the message he has to say.

The long term impact of these results is unclear, but Britain’s relationship with the EU looks set to be a key point of contention heading into the 2015 General Election and beyond.

In Scotland, the SNP continued their electoral dominance winning the majority of the popular vote. However, in a shock result UKIP was successful enough in Scotland to win enough votes for a representative from Scotland.

By Greg Bianchi

While these elections are certainly a turning point in the European Parliament’s relationship with its citizens, the division between European countries is stark. The anti-EU movement has grown, yet it failed to record the large wins it was predicting across the European Union. This will provide the EU with some comfort, but the future composition of the union is still up for debate.



Mainstream must act fast against eurosceptics

Credit: European Parliament

THE EUROSCEPTICS ARE marching and their ranks are swelling. The initial threat to the EU might seem manageable, if a little unnerving; but these European elections could foreshadow unpleasant times to come.

It looks likely that pulling in the same direction will prove a difficult proposition for the disparate groups of sceptics now sitting in the European parliament. Their very disdain for the institutions that they are joining could well obstruct their work in the first place (take a look at UKIP MEPs’ attendance record), while the right-wing parties are keen to disassociate from many of their peers – potential allies – in other countries.

Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands appears to have suffered this election in part due to greater association with France’s Front National. UKIP remain unwilling to align with FN themselves – but for how long? After the 2015 general election – however they fare there – UKIP might well feel more pragmatic, with greater freedom to manoeuvre once the election spotlight dims.

And it bears bottom-lining that the European parliament now has representatives of neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn (Greece) – a real cause for alarm.


That is the threat. There are now a significant number of people in Brussells with unsavoury and alarming views. It is not so much what they do with their new offices as the toehold those offices represent. A platform is a platform and the fact that these people’s voices will now be amplified is of prime concern.

Certainly in the UK, voter apathy and disillusionment with Europe is compounded by the main parties’ failure to take European elections seriously enough. They are merely one piece in a bigger puzzle.

But we are a dangerously short distance from a scenario where all these same factors produce the same result in general elections – the reserve we like to tell ourselves is well enough fortified to withstand the woes of local council and European elections.


The comments made on Monday by Mario Draghi, president of the ECB, were a grim reminder that recovery could still be a long way off for the eurozone. These issues are not going to go away, these voices will not quieten down by themselves.

The mainstream needs to take five minutes away from its usual games and put together a comprehensive putdown of the growing political dangers both at home and in Europe. It is not enough to merely keep swatting them away, failing to deal with the root issues that drive them and refusing to take seriously the platforms they are building.

It sounds simple, it’s hardly a fresh point – but we’re still not doing it.

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo: European Parliament

European Parliament: Who are the groups?



In the European Parliament there are a number of groups which represent different political parties from across the European Union. Each of them offers a different set of policies and ideology. 

There are currently eight groups within the European Parliament ranging from Euroscepticism to Socialism. The different groups provide a way for numerous political parties from across the EU to decide upon policies and push for representation on the supra-national level.

Below is an explanation of the different groups, how they tend to vote, and which prominent political parties are included within their membership.




eppgroupEuropean People’s Party

European People’s Party

The European People’s Party (EPP) is a largely centre-right political grouping which comprises a number of Conservative and Christian-democratic political parties. The group is the largest in the European Union and has been so since 1999. The group’s influence is present in the commission where the grouping has 13 commissioners from parties represented in the EPP. Furthermore, 14 of the 28 heads of state and government in the EU are representatives on the European Council. Therefore, this grouping has wide influence in the European Parliament and European Union as a whole.

The EPP has representatives from 27 out of 28 member states, the United Kingdom is the only exception. The group has representatives from the German Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) who are headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been a prominent figure in European politics over the past few years. The grouping also includes members from the Spanish People’s Party and the Democratic Union of Catalonia. Other notable representatives include the Civic Platform of Poland, Forza Italia and the Union for a Popular Movement from France.

According to statistics the group is the third most active in the European Parliament. The group campaigns upon the principle of Europe remaining as lean as possible with an emphasis on local and regional self-governance. However, the group also supports gradual progress towards a ‘genuine European political union’ as well as calling for the direct election of the President of the European commission in order to address the perceived democratic deficit in Europe.


S&D Staff

S&D Staff

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is a centre-left grouping representing the Party of European Socialists. Since 1999 it has been the second largest grouping in the European Parliament after the EPP. The group has been through a number of name changes but can trace its roots back to 1953. The group is currently headed by its president Hannes Swoboda of Austria who has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1996.

Unlike the EPP it has representatives from all 28 member states. The S&D includes a number of prominent socialist and social democratic parties from across Europe. The SPD of Germany is the largest contingent within the group but is currently in opposition in domestic politics. The UK Labour Party adds 13 MEPs to this grouping while the governing party of Denmark in the Social Democrats is also represented. Two other prominent members with 21 MEPs each include the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and the Italian Democratic Party.

The S&D grouping says it focuses on social justice, financial market reform and a commitment to human rights. The group also has a strong commitment to dealing with unemployment and economic reform following the Eurozone crisis which shook the continent. The group also favours greater direct democracy for European citizens including the European Citizen Initiative which gives European citizens the chance to propose laws to the European Commission if they gather one million signatures.

Alberto Novi

Alberto Novi


Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE/ADLE) group is a liberal and centrist grouping within the European Parliament. The group dates its origins back to the early 1950s, much like the EPP and S&D. It has served in some coalition parliaments – most recently with the EPP.

The grouping has representatives from 20 member states and includes a number of liberal and liberal-democratic groups from across Europe. The two most prominent members of the grouping include the British Liberal Democrats, who currently form a coalition with the Conservative Party in the UK, and the FDP in Germany who until recently participated in a coalition in Germany. The grouping also includes the Danish Venstre party, the Swedish Liberal People’s Party and the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.

The group has a number of different viewpoints including an emphasis on neo-liberal economics, European integration and support for the European single market. The group also supports more cooperation between European states on issues of foreign policy in order to create an External Action Service with a greater emphasis on promoting democracy and human rights as an organisation.



The Greens-European Free Alliance

The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) group is a green and regional-focused organisation. The grouping represents a number of regionalist parties which are currently not independent states. However, the group does have representatives from national, non-regional parties.

Some of the groups most prominent members include the Scottish National Party (SNP) who may succeed in making Scotland an independent country later this year. It also has representatives form the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, the Republican Left of Catalonia and the Galician Nationalist Bloc. However, a number of green-minded national parties also exist within the grouping such as the Swedish Green Party and the Greek Ecologist Greens. Another interesting party within this bloc is the Swedish Pirate Party which campaigns for greater privacy on the internet and reform of copyright laws.

The grouping campaigns on the promise of promoting the interests of representatives from ‘stateless’ nations and disadvantaged minorities as well as a focus on a green agenda for greater environmental awareness. The group has 58 MEPs from 15 countries and places gender equality at the centre of its campaigns with 18 female MEPs and 20 male MEPs.


European Conservatives and Reformists

ECR Group

ECR Group

The fifth largest grouping in the European Parliament are the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is a conservative grouping. It currently comprises 57 MEPs from eleven member states. The grouping draws much of its support from the UK, central Europe and some of the Baltic states. the group is often described as Euro-sceptic and anti-federalist, traditionally being suspicious of greater European integration.

Following the move of the British Conservative Party the grouping increased its number of MEPs massively – this affiliation added 26 members to the group. The next largest political representative in this group is the Czech Civic Democratic Party and Poland Together.

The group advocates a ‘third way’ between break-up of the union and a move towards a European ‘super state’. In this it calls for urgent reform of the European Union, something which has featured prominently in the UK in recent years, and calls for an EU of ‘Eurorealism’ set out in the Prague Declaration which it claims would mean that reform of the EU would allow the union to listen to people in member states while improving trade relations.



European United Left – Nordic Green Left



The European United Left (GUE/NGL) is one of the smaller groupings within the European Parliament. The group was established in 1995 and includes members which campaign mostly on a socialist or communist platform.

The group has a total membership of 35 MEPs from 13 member states. The party with the largest number of MEPs in the grouping is The Left (Die Linke) who are the successor party to the former Communist Party of East Germany with 8 MEPs represented within the group. The Czech Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia has four representatives while the French united Left Front has five members through pooling support from four political parties.

The group says it disagrees with the current European model but is committed to greater integration. The group says it wishes to preserve the existence of national identities and opinions of its members while promoting a united platform of a “socially equitable, peaceful and sustainable European integration process based on solidarity.” It criticises the role the EU has currently played with its focus and support for market-oriented policies favouring competition which it claims increases inequality. The group calls for greater cooperation and agreement across Europe to deal with these issues.



European Parliament

European Parliament

Europe of Freedom and Democracy

The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group is Eurosceptic organisation of rightist parties from across the European Union. The group is largely made up from the remnants of the now defunct Independence/Democracy and Union for a Europe of Nations groups. The group was largely made after its two predecessors suffered from poor results in the European Parliament elections – with the notable exception of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP form the largest part of the grouping with a total of 10 MEPs. However, the group also attracts 9 MEPs from the Italian Northern League. The group has a total of 34 MEPs from twelve member states.

The grouping is often described as ‘far-right’ and is the most hostile to the European project with parties such as UKIP encouraging a complete withdrawal from the European Union, a message which has gained support in some areas of Europe. According to the group they represent freedom and respect for Europe’s citizens and greater cooperation as sovereign states. The group also emphasises that there needs to be greater respect for Europe’s history and different cultural differences with an emphasis on the inviolability of borders. The group also says it rejects xenophobia, anti-Semitism and any other form of discrimination.



The final, and smallest group, in the European Parliament are the Non-Inscrits (NI) who represent a number of Members of the European Parliament who do not sit in the groups represented in the European Parliament. NI’s come from a number of political backgrounds including socialism and conservatism, but many come from far-right parties.

NI’s who currently sit in the European Parliament include members from prominent far-right parties including Jobbik party in Hungary, the Front National from France, representatives of the FPÖ from Austria as well as the British National Party.

The NI’s briefly formed a group named ‘Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty’ but this soon fell apart due to differences between the representatives.


By Greg Bianchi

We need to stop making plans for Nigel



We need to talk about Nigel. Well actually we need to talk about not talking about Nigel. We need to gather everyone together and agree that much like Justin Bieber and other people’s dreams, if we just stopped talking about Nigel Farage, life would be much much sweeter.

You see UKIP launched their campaign posters for the EU elections this week and to no one’s surprise, they’re pretty unpalatable. A point not lost on the twitterverse who were keen to point out the posters flaws. Some humorously remade the posters with actual figures and a pro-immigration slant.

While others pointed out the vast similarities with another party’s election posters.

The Labour party were quick to condemn the posters as racist, while The Times orchestrated a not-so-subtle attack on Farage and his expenses on behalf of the Conservative party. It all slightly misses the point though. The small fact that the ‘establishment’ — as you-can-call-me-Nige likes to put it — seems to have missed, is that UKIP’s core voters aren’t going to be reasoned with. At least not in the Nick Clegg, Guardian readers of Hampstead Heath way.

There is now a significant anti-immigration sentiment among the British public. A recent YouGov poll claimed 70 per cent of the UK public believe that low skilled immigrants looking for low paid work should not be allowed into the country. That’s despite the many studies that show there are thousands of low paid jobs still unfilled across the country, that low-skilled British workers often refuse to work in some sectors, and the chief executive of Domino’s Pizza asserting that he could build another 5,000 stores across the nation — a boost to the country’s economy — if they let in more immigrants not less. But there, I’ve fallen into the same trap; I’ve used facts and figures to reason with what is effectively a populist feeling.

So what’s the solution? How to regain a sense of clarity? Its certainly not calling them ‘fruitcakes’ and ‘loons’ or deeming their every move racist. Its almost certainly not to trumpet and scream about the UKIP members. Its not even to take them as seriously as to give their leader — who’s party has zero Members of Parliament — an equal footing with the Deputy Prime Minister on the BBC. Farage’s appeal comes from his ‘man of the people’ shtick and UKIP’s policies appeal to the heart of their voters not their heads. Where Nigel knows best is in feasting on the ‘us vs them’ atmosphere, creating a siege mentality amongst their voters whilst plying them with style over substance rhetoric.

There is genuine anti-establishment anger among the British public and that needs to be channelled by those who see that our future lies within the EU. The UK isn’t and won’t ever be full of people who you can have a reasoned argument with. These people will not listen to facts — as so accurately proven by the recent television debates — but they will vote and they are important. In Europe for these elections, each political party outlines their policies on Europe, their visions for the future of the EU. Even the Eurosceptics on the continent are aware that the EU isn’t going anywhere soon. So really we need to take less notice of who we can ‘go and have a beer with’ and start developing a plan for how to ensure the government represents the people’s wishes, the starting point of democracy. These elections have been and always will be bigger than UKIP, so its time the other parties stopped making plans for Nigel.

And if we can all agree to stop writing about Nigel Farage maybe we’d all be much happier in our worlds too. I for one will start right now.

By Jamie Timson

Picture credit: UKIP

Could this be the peak of the anti-EU parties?


EU Exposed

EU Exposed

With the EU increasingly coming under the microscope in 2014, Greg Bianchi looks at the rise of anti-EU sentiment across the continent in search of its cause.

Ahead of the European Parliament elections in May much has been made about growing anti-EU sentiment across Europe. In the UK the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is set to win the most seats with its strong anti-EU rhetoric.

The same can be said for the Front National (FN) in France led by Marine Le Pen, daughter of the more extreme Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands led by the controversial Geert Wilders. Add to this the growing influence of the far-right, neo-Nazi extremist parties of Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece and the future of the EU appears increasingly uncertain.

The Euro-crisis has been blamed for growing discontent as government’s tried desperately to shore up their finances. In addition to this there has been growing discontent among electorates as to the influence of Europe on national sovereignty. Some governments have harnessed this for political gain – with the increasing influence of UKIP in the UK the Conservative party has increasingly sought to distance itself from Europe promising a referendum on EU membership by 2017 if they win the next election. In addtion to this the Conservatives are calling for the repeal of the Human Rights Act claiming it is part of a European influence which stops the government from deporting suspected terrorists and foreign criminals.

Has anti-EU sentiment peaked?

While it’s true that anti-EU parties have been growing in influence, it’s hard to see their success lasting beyond the EU elections later this year. Due to the voting system in the UK it is unlikely UKIP will win a significant amount of seats in the national parliament, therefore it’s possible that the clamour for anti-EU policy will be less vocal and therefore less influential on the government.

In a broader European context it can be said that the EU has been through huge turmoil in the past few years and has emerged largely unscathed. While Greece has defaulted and the Euro has looked unstable at times there were still no major exits. Furthermore, and most importantly, no states left the EU and reverted back to traditional spheres of influence or even worse, back to authoritarian government.

In addition to this, the images spreading across Europe from the Maidan protests in Kyiv and Ukraine last month may have served to give the EU an important image. As a bulwark for democracy against an increasingly authoritarian Russia and a mediator between the West and East; it should be noted that many European countries have to balance their interests against Russian aggression more finely than the United States does. However, the images of western Ukraine wanting to join the EU has helped propel the image of the EU as a collective organisation which can be seen as a force for strength and diplomacy in the region.

The numbers game

Finally, the debate over the EU can be seen as a numbers game. Polling generally shows that in the UK the older the voters the more sceptical they are about the EU. Add to this the issue that young voters are less engaged and this helps explain why anti-EU parties are increasingly important and influential.

However, when asked many young people favour staying in the European Union – something which may be generational as many young Europeans have grown up after the fall of the iron curtain and with the EU as an ever-present form in their lives.

Therefore, it may be that while the anti-EU parties are enjoying relative success now, this sentiment will eventually begin to change as new generations become more politically engaged and begin to drive the national agenda.

Until then, we will still have debates over the EU. But, just maybe, this could be the last major threat to the union.

The Syrian Question

The Syria Question 

With rhetoric becoming increasingly more hostile towards immigration in the UK, Greg Bianchi looks at how this effects the Syrian Refugee Crisis and International Students.

The last few months has seen a major debate in the UK about immigration. With the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) during a time of economic hardship and political turmoil, the Conservative Party began losing votes. With the unique and rare situation of a hung parliament in the UK the stakes are higher for the political parties to try and seize power. The Conservatives are targeting a majority in the next parliament to avoid another coalition, meanwhile the Labour Party are also targeting a majority but look like they may end up in a coalition government themselves come 2015.

The attraction of UKIP for many people was their hard-line rhetoric on the EU and immigration. As a result the Conservatives began to face a threat within their own party of rebellions by back-bench MPs who are stridently anti-EU and have forced the Prime Minister into a promise of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. The major caveat of this was that, if the British public want this choice, they have to elect a Conservative majority in 2015. As a result the Conservative Party became more hard-line in their rhetoric on immigration. Most notably the removal of restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian migrants to work in the UK fell into the cross-hairs of the right in Britain. This resulted in a race to the bottom in some sections of the press as well as among UKIP and the Conservative Party.

The resulting attempts to seem hardest on immigration led to the passing of new legislation by the government in order to stop migrants from claiming benefits before they had worked in the UK for a number of months. This was termed ‘benefit tourism’ however many claimed this amounted to little more than ‘window dressing’ as reports suggested that only a few migrants would come to the UK, and those that did were likely to contribute more than they took from the state.

However, this has led to a quagmire for the UK over the question of dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. While the United Nations have insisted that countries should sign up to a quota system to accept refugees. Germany has already pledged to accept 10,000. The UK became embroiled in arguments with UNHCR and on Wednesday, January 29th said it would accept 500 of the most vulnerable refugees. While the UK government have claimed that their humanitarian effort is widely respected and reportedly the second largest response to the crisis, this wrangling over accepting refugees must be in part related to the government’s recent rhetoric over immigration.

Meanwhile, the numbers of international students coming to the UK has fallen in recent years. Despite an aging population and the need for more migration into Britain, there is still some hostility towards new migrants. With the introduction of £9000 fees for student studying in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as sky-high international fees across the UK including Scotland, there has been a significant fall in the numbers of students coming to the UK.

While the government doesn’t actively seek to undermine students coming to study in the UK at some of the world’s renowned institutions, the high cost of studying in the UK is causing potential migrants to look elsewhere – in fact the greatest drop in migrants in recent years has been among students.

Migration has always been a controversial topic in the UK, and with anti-EU sentiment growing it appears this is a trend that is set to continue for some time.