There’s been a lot of commentary in the press about last weekend’s elections to the European Parliament. Most noted has been the rise of euroskeptic and far right parties in several countries. The far left also made advances, with a Marxist party coming first in Greece and a surprisingly strong performance from a new far left party in Spain. Yet we should also keep some things in perspective:
- As the image to the right shows, the far right and far left combined will have just over 10% of the seats in the European parliament. Other euroskeptical parties will add another 8-9% to that total. The center-left and center-right blocs are the largest, as ever.
- The European Parliament has little power to roll back European integration in any case. The irony of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s success in European elections in Britain is that they can do very little to withdraw Britain from the EU from their seats in Brussels. Until euroskeptic parties start forming national governments, we aren’t going to see any countries seriously reconsidering European Union membership.
- There is not a positive correlation between the level of unemployment and the percentage of the vote for the far right. Some of the high-unemployment countries, like Greece and Spain, had very strong performances from the far left, but it still seems that national economic performance did not drive far-right voting. Still, the Eurozone crisis has damaged the legitimacy of EU institutions and markets more generally. Economic decline, even when caused by government or central bank mismanagement, always seems to undermine public support for free enterprise and international openness.
- Even in the UK, public opinion on European integration already seems to have turned the corner. In no EU member state does a majority favor withdrawal.