Andrey Kulikov
Editor-in-chief at Europe Insight

Unexpected radicals

Leading national parties embrace marginal ideas in defiance of the EU

One of the main outcomes of the year for Europe is the start of a project, proposed in Brussels, for deepening the political and economic integration of European Union member countries, though it is yet fairly unspecific. Revolutionary structures and competencies, including, for example, the post of finance minister and a common eurozone “government” are already being talked about. The project is substantiated on the need to improve the model of governance, i.e., to make faster and better decisions.

However, discussion of the new initiatives is taking place against the backdrop of tremendous pressure coming from individual states, the United Kingdom most of all. The criticism is completely antithetical, calling for reduction of the authority of Brussels and Strasbourg and returning the prerogative in decision-making on a number of issues back to national entities.

“Euroscepticism is a euphemism for right-wing nationalism,” British political heavyweight Kenneth Clarke recently stated. These words had been applicable for the last few years. But in 2015 pessimistic attitudes towards the common European project have ceased to be the domain of populists and radicals alone. Many traditional parties, including ruling ones, have now also fully adopted them.

Of course, as before, it is easier to mention critics from far-right and far-left names, the successes of which have agitated the entire European Union. These are the National Front in France, UKIP in the UK, Syriza in Greece, the Sweden Democrats and the Danish People’s Party. But Euroscepticism has now penetrated places that once vied for leadership in a united Europe instead of in leaving it.

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, which is for EU constitutional reform, is split. Several members of the Republicans in France share critical attitudes. In Poland, Law and Justice is safeguarding “national interests”. The Danish Venstre is in dispute with Brussels over immigration and, on the whole, sluggishly conducted a recent referendum on greater cooperation with the EU in the area of security and justice, which then failed. In Sweden, the ruling and opposition coalitions agree on anti-immigrant measures, previously proposed only by radicals. It is practically the same in Hungary. And it was namely in 2015, after several years of talks, that Iceland decided not to enter the EU.

For the builders of a united Europe, the most unexpected part of all this is that criticism no longer comes from marginal political elements. The fringe parties do not necessarily need to come to power: a number of their ideas and slogans have already been taken up and are being used in leading parties’ state policies. Euroscepticism or principal opposition to Brussels on various issues have become mainstream. And now it is not minor parties seeking high public office which pose a threat to any European initiative but those who already have full authority in their countries.

Other materials