Can Europe Make It?

The Eurosceptic revolution: much ado about nothing?

The success of eurosceptic parties at the 2014 European elections was expected to mark a paradigm shift in both national and European politics. As the dust begins to settle, the eurosceptic wave may not be the catalyst for change many feared or hoped for.

Chiara Rosselli Eleonora Poli
26 September 2014

The success of eurosceptic parties at the 2014 European elections was expected to mark a paradigm shift in both national and European politics. As the dust begins to settle, the eurosceptic wave may not be the catalyst for change many feared or hoped for. Out of 751 seats in the European parliament, only 140 belong to parties of Eurosceptic inclination, which have so far split four ways.

The biggest group, championed by Nigel Farage of UKIP (24 seats), is the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) counting among its rows 48 convinced Eurosceptic parliamentarians, followed by the far more eurocritical than eurosceptical European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL, 52 seats) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR, 70 seats), respectively left and right of the political spectrum. Last but not least, the 21 French Front National parliamentarians and a handful of Hungarian Jobbik and Greek Golden Dawn parliamentarians remain unaligned. [1]

Le Pen’s failure in creating a political group at the European level despite a crushing victory at home, was the first sign of the hard times that lay ahead for Eurosceptic parties in Brussels. The cracks also begin to show as parties continue to reshuffle reflecting the unease with which Eurosceptic groups are attempting to navigate through a fairly hostile environment. UKIP has refused to ally with the likes of Front National, while it has agreed to cooperate with the Italian Five Star Movement (17 seats).[2] ln the meantime, less than 2 months after the forming of the EFDD group, the True Finns (PS, 2 seats)[3] faction has split away and jumped ship to join the ECR together with the Alternative for Germany (AfD, 7 seats).[4]

The agenda of these various anti-establishment movements certainly has at its core a set of shared concerns: immigration, loss of sovereignty, loss of national identity and economic hardship, all of which it blames on the EU. Beyond these four axes, though, it becomes more arduous for eurosceptic political groupings to identify common ground around which to build consensus.[5] Indeed, eurosceptic parties more often than not possess conflicting conceptions, born out of ideological differences. If we consider economic and monetary policies, both the UKIP and the Five Star Movement accuse European austerity policies to be one of the main causes of the crisis, however while UKIP endorses free market policies, the Five Star Movement, instead, backs a socio economic model and greater cooperation between nation state and citizens.[6] Similarly the eurocritical ECR, recently split internally over Lithuania’s adoption of the euro, as Alternative for Germany cast its vote against the group’s position.[7] In contrast to the ECR’s “eurorealism” on the need for promoting a “general health of the European economy”,  AfD believes that in order to be competitive, the eurozone should expel southern and eastern countries.

The Euroscpetic wave might be pushing mainstream pro-Europe parties towards greater cooperation. The right wing European People’s Party (EPP), the right-leaning Alliance for Liberal Democrats of Europe (ALDE) and the left wing Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have so far shared a similar position 85.5% of the time when voting an EP resolution, compared to 66.5% registered in the previous term.[8]

Until now, they seem to be also more effective in building their internal consensus and thus achieving high level of voting loyalty. For example, while the EFDD shows 45.39% of internal cohesion the EPP has 96%, ALDE 93% and S&D 87,45%.[9] ALDE has been on the winning side of EU Parliamentary votes 92.3% of the time, followed by S&D (86.59%) and the EPP (82.5%). Much further down the line, the EFDD and GUE-NGL have so far mustered 41% of “victories”. [10]  Breaking down these figures reveals that ALDE, EPP and S&D together with the eurocritical ECR have, at the time of writing, won 100% of the resolutions voted on economic and monetary affairs. On employment and social affairs instead the mainstream block has been more divided allowing the EFDD and the GUE-NGL to achieve a higher percentage of victories (53%) and possibly revealing the initial stages of an interesting alignment between the policy orientation of EFDD with the Greens and the GUE-NGL with the S&D. [11]

The above percentages demonstrate the weight that parties such as ALDE, S&D and EPP are able to exert, both through higher voting loyalty and through a greater ability and predisposition towards majority building across political groups. Fairly telling is the “nominal power vs actual power” indicator. With 140 seats the Eurosceptics have undoubtedly acquired unprecedented nominal power within the Parliament. Yet, due to internal divisions, their actual power is more limited than expected. While the EPP, S&D and ALDE’s actual power is averagely estimated at a good 2% above their nominal power (EPP 4.08%, S&D 1.64%,ALDE 0.95%), the statistic crushes the EFDD which, possessing a nominal power of 6.37% , manages to exert an actual power of barely over 3%.[12]

That said, the dice have not fallen, with only few Parliamentary resolutions voted so far the game of coalition building and negotiations has only just begun. The spirit of adaptation of Eurosceptic parties will very much define the legacy that this Parliament will leave to its successors. Nevertheless, for the moment being, the Eurosceptic revolutionaries appear slightly more akin to a disruptive presence, blocking Europe’s speedy path on an already crowded sidewalk.














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