News Overview 2014

"Euro-skepticism" on the Rise?

Around 400 million Europeans will have the opportunity to elect a new European Parliament in May. Mark Leonard, cofounder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think tank, explains why only an alarmingly low number of them will go to the polls and what it means for the EU.

"This time it’s different." This is the slogan that the European Parliament is using to motivate its citizens to vote in the EU elections between May 22 and 25. The slogan is probably correct, said Mark Leonard during a talk at Robert Bosch Stiftung, continuing: "This time it will be even worse." And this isn’t only due to the national-debt crises in several EU countries or European immigration policy, which has been met with disapproval from many citizens. "The EU looks like globalization on steroids – instead of mitigating it." Instead of giving its citizens the impression that the EU can mitigate globalization, the EU itself appears to be the epitome of globalization.

As such, the European Union is suffering from a crisis of confidence. In a recent survey, two out of every three EU citizens indicated that they no longer trust the EU at all. And the fact that "Euro-skeptics" can now be found in each of its member states is truly alarming: before the crisis, it was mostly just the British who mistrusted the EU. At the same time, fewer and fewer EU citizens are voting in the parliamentary elections. Back in 1979, turnout stood at almost two-thirds of all eligible voters, while in 2009, that figure sank to 43 percent.

And according to Leonard, that is the sticking point. If anti-EU parties like the British UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) succeed in mobilizing their supporters on election day while the majority of citizens stay home, they could form a strong alliance with other Euro-skeptics and create a "self-hating parliament" in Brussels. And meetings between the French and Dutch right wingers Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders (respectively), who have announced the formation of a "European Tea Party," show that these fears are not entirely unfounded.

Mark Leonard warned of the consequences such an election result would have on European politics. Economic integration in the EU would proceed more slowly, citizens’ freedoms could be called into question, and the entire EU would become more fragile. In this context, it is important that the EU develop new ideas for a social Europe – and that the world isn’t only governed from Washington and Peking. There are still a few weeks left to convince as many EU citizens as possible of the importance of this election – and that this time, everything’s different.

(Julia Rommel, April 2014)
Mark Leonard at the Robert Bosch Stiftung