The European elections will be held throughout the EU on 22nd May. There are 751 seats being contested. Pollsters expect the votes for mainstream political parties to fall dramatically. Polls show that fringe parties, often with anti-immigration policies, are likely to do well.
The main reason for the change, analysts say, is that the public no longer trust mainstream political parties to solve their problems. Polls throughout the EU show that trust in the EU itself has been greatly eroded, even in countries which do very well financially out of EU membership.
Growing mistrust of EU
In May 2007, polling showed that only 18% of Poles tended to distrust the EU. By December 2012, despite the great economic benefit Poland has gained from EU membership. That figure has risen to 42%. In Germany and France, traditionally among the most 'pro-European' EU members, distrust of the EU has risen from 36% and 41% respectively to 59% and 56%.
Traditionally, the UK has been the most 'Eurosceptic' country in the EU but this is not the case anymore. In 2007, 49% of Britons distrusted the EU. This had grown to 69% in 2012. But in Spain, distrust of the EU rocketed from 23% in 2007 to 72% in 2012, making it the new home of euroscepticism.
There are many reasons for this growing dissatisfaction with European institutions.
- Many say that there is a 'democratic deficit' at the heart of Europe because the European Commission, which has much of Europe's power, is a body of governmental appointees
- Manly also say that the EU has failed to develop an effective foreign policy. They say that the EU's foreign representative, Baroness Ashton, has been powerless and irrelevant during the Ukrainian crisis. Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister is on record saying that President Putin of Russia has 'only contempt for Europe'
- Since the last elections in 2009, Europe has been through a financial crisis which has left many people, particularly in southern Europe, unemployed. The crisis left several countries including Ireland and Greece virtually bankrupt. Throughout Europe, standards of living have fallen and the eurozone's currency, the euro, very nearly collapsed.
Voters expected to blame immigrants for economic woes
There were many causes for this crisis, not least the international banking crisis of 2008 and the lack of a common fiscal policy in the Eurozone. However, it seems that, in the wake of this crisis, many EU citizens blame immigrants, not bankers, for their problems.
In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party led by Heinz-Christian Strache is expected to gain votes. In the Netherlands, the Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom or PVV) is expected to come second.
In France, the Front Nationale is polling strongly and in the UK, the anti-EU UK Independence Party, which advocates that the UK should leave the EU altogether to limit immigration from the EU, is expected to come first in the UK election.
All these parties oppose the free movement of people within the EU and also are sceptical of the benefits that EU membership confers on their own countries.
According to at least one respected European politician, the rise of these fringe parties has been caused by the complacency of the mainstream political establishment. Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister says 'The problem is not the Eurosceptics. The problem is the mainstream parties… [The eurosceptics are] strong because they are managing the emotions and we are not'.
According to many centrist politicians, far from causing Europe's problems, immigration is, in fact, the answer. Ania Skrzypek, a Polish political scientist, told UK newspaper The Guardian 'In western Europe many think the welfare systems are not sustainable. We just can't afford them. Migration is the answer'.
EU population set to fall
This is because the population of Europe is set to fall substantially over the next generation. This will cause labour shortages and mean that the number of workers will fall while the number of pensioners will rise, leading to an increase in the tax burden.
But traditional, mainstream parties have not communicated this reality to the public. They allow fringe parties to whip up hysteria about immigration and introduce limits on migration themselves in order to try to gain votes. It seems likely that after the election increasing political power will be in the hands of 'fringe parties'.
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