The Eurosceptics have won the day

Article published on June 16, 2004
community published
Article published on June 16, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Abstention and nationalism have seen the triumph of the Eurosceptics. Outlook for Europe after the elections of the 13th of June, from Ljubljana to Belgrade.

The Three ‘Europes’ that are destroying Europe

There is a Europe which, to general indifference, is not actually in Europe and makes the borders of Greater Europe unsustainably dangerous. On the same day the Euroelections were taking place in the very European Ljubljana, a few hundreds kilometres away in the south, in Belgrade, the most radical nationalist candidate, Tomislav Nikolic, was leading the Serbian presidential elections by qualifying for the second ballot. ‘Greater Europe’ was finished and betrayed before it could reach the other shore of the Adriatic: barely a hundred miles of sea from our illusions and the hypocrisy. Then there is also a Europe which welcomes ‘official Europe’ by neglecting to vote. In the 10 countries which have become part of the EU since the 1st of May only one in four voters went to the polls. To the East, the Union has been marketed as a kind of bovine amusement park: agricultural subsidies, monetary stability and structural funds. Brussels’ strategy has succeeded perfectly: intelligent voters in the new member states have understood that the EU’s new promised land does not need the European Parliament, unless for a crude operation of democratic make-believe.

Finally, there is also a Europe where the people voted simply because they did not want Europe. According to the latest results, in Great Britain, the two Eurosceptic parties – the UK Independence Party (16,8%) and the British National Party (5,2%) – together captured the same percentage of votes received by Tony Blair’s Labour Party (22.3%). In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National was awarded 10% of the votes while in Italy the extreme Left achieved 8%. Not to leave out the new member states: in Poland alone anti-European groups attained 29% of the vote. These results make the new European Parliament a place where it will be difficult to discuss greater European integration, institutional reforms and the overcoming of national interests constructively.

The breakdown of the European Parliament?

Nevertheless, it has to be recognised that, throughout the electoral campaign, the Eurosceptics were the only ones who talked about Europe, by emphatically underlining and highlighting its limits. Meanwhile, the ‘pro-European’ parties’ occupied themselves with empire building, constructing virtual and mythical ‘federalist groups’ which are determined not to leave behind any of the voters’ dreams on the ballot paper. And as for the initiative of the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, the goal is to create a European and centrist group at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

These three Europes, so different and yet so dangerously similar, threaten to transform the next European Parliament into a theatre of eternal clashes. Perhaps it will be able to manage day-to-day business but it will be incapable of conceptualising and building new European horizons, condemning the EU to fatal implosion.

Serbian nationalism, abstention and the Eurosceptic vote are all the symptoms of a common ill: the old continent no longer ‘does’ politics. Those citizens who on Sunday contributed to the advance of these three unofficial Europes did so in order to express their growing discontent.

Lest we forget this wake-up call, the challenge in the coming weeks and months will be to provide a new meeting place, to offer a forum for exchange and mutual development to the whole of Europe and to the possible Europes of the future - inside and outside the official Parliament. Out of dialogue and debate will emerge essential questions and divisions among parties, allowing a return to politics. For café babel it is the usual challenge, but as of today, that challenge has become more urgent and necessary than ever.