Opinion

Mark Leonard

Does Europe have a hero waiting in the wings?

Mark Leonard
May 27, 2014 20:19 UTC

Italy's PM Renzi arrives at an informal summit of European Union leaders in Brussels

What Europe needs now is a hero.

Before the European elections, many predicted a political earthquake. Now it has struck, leaving the mainstream parties of Europe battered, bloodied and in disarray.

As it so often is, the most eloquent signal was the number of European citizens who chose to sit out the elections altogether (almost 60 percent). And those who did vote could not have been clearer in their rejection of the political mainstream — both right and left.

As predicted in the polls, Euro-phobic parties dominated the poll in two of Europe’s most populous and influential countries, France and the UK, and they exerted a strong influence in many others. In France, the National Front leader Marine Le Pen topped the poll with a record 25 percent of the vote.  And in the UK, the insurgent Nigel Farage was the first political leader in 100 years who did not come from the Labour or Conservative parties to top a national poll.

As Matt Browne wrote in his recent piece, from Italy to Denmark, and from Austria to Greece or Spain, centrist parties are being challenged from the extremes. And even in countries like Spain, which seemed immune to the new populist movement, the two main parties failed to get even half of the votes.

The net result of the European elections is that the largest grouping in the European Parliament will neither be the centre-right EPP (which is down to 212 seats from its previous 274) or the Centre-Left PES (which are down to 185 from their previous 196) – but rather a ragbag of anti-establishment Members of the European Parliament (MEPS).

Europe’s self-hating parliament

Mark Leonard
Nov 19, 2013 16:24 UTC

Some are talking about the alliance last week of France’s national front leader Marine Le Pen and the Dutch populist Geert Wilders as a European Tea Party. Whether or not these two are functioning as Europe’s answer to Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, their anti-EU policies are aimed at forming a broader alliance with parties in other member states.

The Euroskeptic bloc could be more damaging than the Tea Party. Tea Partiers are keen to get government out of peoples’ lives, but they don’t oppose the very existence of the union or of U.S. Congress. The Euroskeptics do not support the existence of the EU and by extension they oppose the European Parliament, into which they are seeking election. If, as polls predict, Euroskeptics emerge with strong support, we may see a “self-hating Parliament” that ultimately wants to secure its own abolition.

Le Pen and Wilders describe the alliance as the “start of the liberation of Europe from the monster of Brussels”. The European Parliament has the power to block the appointment of the European Commission (the EU’s main executive body), to veto the majority of European legislation, to block the signature of international treaties and trade agreements and even to hold up the EU’s annual budget.

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