Why Euro-skeptics' surge in EU vote marks a 'political earthquake'
Published Monday, May 26, 2014 9:27AM EDT
Results of the European elections are being dubbed a “political earthquake” that could mean as much for individual countries’ domestic politics as for the 28-nation European Parliament.
Ahead of the official results, early returns showed far-right and anti-European Union parties and politicians surging in a number of countries, including Britain and France.
- In Britain, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) won 27 per cent of the vote, compared to the Conservatives’ 24 per cent and Labour’s 25 per cent.
- In France, the far-right National Front won 25 per cent of the vote, while the centre-right UMP won 21 per cent of the vote.
"The people have spoken loud and clear," National Front leader Marine Le Pen told cheering supporters at her party’s headquarters in Paris.
"They no longer want to be led by those outside our borders, by EU commissioners and technocrats who are unelected. They want to be protected from globalisation and take back the reins of their destiny."
But what does it mean? French Prime Minister Manual Valls called the results a “political earthquake,” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the results were “remarkable and regrettable.”
Traditional Conservative and socialist parties are still projected to win about 70 per cent of the European Parliament’s 751 seats, and will retain the balance of power if they vote together. However, the far-right and so-called “Euro-skeptics” have a stronger voice now than ever before.
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage declared that “the inevitability of European integration ends tonight.”
While election observers say that’s an overstatement because the pro-EU forces will retain a majority, the Euro-skeptics will likely have some influence on key issues facing the European Parliament: reviving stalled economic growth and boosting employment across Europe, as well as ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States.
"The signal sent by the electorate is that, clearly, it wants the European Union to be more effective, it wants it to deliver more results to the citizens, it wants it to solve economic issues and unemployment," polling analyst Doru Frantescu of VoteWatch Europe told the Associated Press. "These are the reasons for which people have turned toward the far left, toward the far right, toward Euroskeptics in general."
'Heads will have to roll'
But they will likely have the most influence in their domestic political scenes.
UKIP’s stunning victory in Britain marked the first national election in the country’s modern history not won by either Labour or the Conservatives. According to the Guardian newspaper, the party nearly doubled its support from the last European elections in 2009, when it finished second to the Conservatives.
After early results were in, Farage boldly predicted that his party may “hold the balance of power in another hung parliament.”
"We may well see one party leader forced out of his position and another to reconsider his policy of opposition to a referendum on Europe, and David Cameron will have to take a much tougher negotiating stance,” Farage said.
In Britain, the Liberal Democrats lost all but one of their 11 European Parliament members and its vote share dropped to 7 per cent, which could force a review of Nick Clegg’s leadership.
Across the Channel in France, the Front National is on course to win its first national election in its 42-year history with about 25 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the governing Socialists at 14 per cent.
The results led Hollande to call an emergency cabinet meeting and Valls pledged to introduce reforms “faster, there isn’t a moment to lose.”
While one aide to Hollande said the results “will spark a new crisis of authority” for the president, it could also mean the end for Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of the centre-right UMP, which finished second to the FN with 20 per cent of the vote.
“Heads will have to roll,” one UMP MP told Le Parisien.