In elections to the European Parliament (May 22-25), Eurosceptic and far-right parties have made unprecedented gains. They have won nationally in the UK — Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are yet to declare their results — France and Denmark. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centrists won in Germany, and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party in Italy.
But in Greece, the far-left, anti-troika (EU, IMF, ECB) Syriza leads, while the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn is set to enter the EP. As Nigel Farage, leader of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), has claimed, the largest multi-national exercise in democracy has made European integration no longer look inevitable.
Farage’s UKIP has made history as this is the first time in nearly a century that neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party has won an election nationally. In France, Marine le Pen’s far-right National Front has beaten the centre-right UMP and relegated President François Hollande’s Socialists to a poor third. While this tectonic shift indicates serious opposition to the idea of Europe in Brussels henceforth, mainstream pro-European parties on the right and left of centre still hold a two-thirds majority in the EP. As such, the EU will chug along and little policy shift is to be expected or feared, especially given that Eurocritics on the right are divided and most rightwing Eurosceptics will have nothing to do with le Pen.
Where these elections — dismissed as “free hit” polls by some Tories — matter, instead, is in the altered political equations in EU member states. The UKIP has taken away many votes from both the Tories and Labour, raising questions about Ed Miliband’s leadership for next year’s UK general elections and triggering calls for Nick Clegg’s resignation as leader of the fifth-placed LibDems.
Le Pen is still far from winning a national election, but the challenge to France’s two mainstream parties is now tangible. The biggest cause for concern in Brussels, however, is the likelihood of one half of the EU engine, comprised of Germany and France, going into reverse gear. The European project has been dealt a body blow. But for now, it’s still alive and the EP elections saw an increase in turnout for the first time.