Euroscepticism in Europe must not be underestimated

Euroscepticism in Europe must not be underestimated

In the entire EU, dissatisfaction among citizens gives rise to Eurosceptic political parties. This development potentially is a time bomb for the European integration and should not be underestimated by EU officials.

Euroscepticism is spreading all over Europe

Europe has been in a severe crisis for several years. We only have to open the newspaper and the headlines will confront us with this painful fact. Many citizens across Europe feel it in their wallets and worry about the future. This provides a large stage for Eurosceptic political parties who are likely to win many followers in different EU Member States. Looking at the upcoming elections for the European Parliament in May 2014, this development must not be underestimated.

Underestimating this rise of Euroscepticism, however, seems to be precisely what is happening at the moment. In the corridors of the EU institutions, Euroscepticism is often dismissed as a ‘British disease’ derived from Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party who have been calling for a British exit for years. But this phenomenon is certainly not just British. Since the beginning of the crisis, trust in the EU has fallen from +10 to -22 in France, from +20 to -29 points in Germany, from +30 to -22 points in Italy, from +42 to -52 points in Spain, from +50 to +6 points in Poland and from -13 to -49 points in the UK.

The EU’s democratic deficit is at the core of Euroscepticism

Historically, the main explanation for Euroscepticism was the alleged existence of a democratic deficit within the EU. Decisions, critics said, were taken by irresponsible institutions instead of elected national governments. However, the current crisis is not born of a collision between Brussels and the Member States but constitutes a clash between the democratic will of the people in Northern and Southern Europe, called the center and periphery. And both sides are now using EU institutions to promote their interests.

In the past, there was an unwritten rule that EU institutions would control the single market and other technical areas of policy from common standards for the composition of tomato paste to lawnmower sound emissions. National governments, in contrast, would continue to have a monopoly on the delivery of services and policymaking in the most sensitive areas on which national elections depended. Especially in resolving crises like the one we are in now, it is important that people are also bound by this rule and that citizens keep a positive attitude towards the EU.

When we look at previous crises that have occurred in Europe, we see a general tendency of more rapprochement to European cooperation. From one of these crises, the recovering after the Second World War, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the predecessor of the EU, arose. The main goals of the ECSC were to prevent that war would ever happen again and to stimulate the reconstruction of Europe through multilateral cooperation. Although we are now in a different kind of crisis, we are still seeing a high degree of cooperation between EU Member States.

However, the EU has slightly overshot its initial purpose. The motto of the EU is after all “unity through diversity”. This seems contradictory to the current policy of the EU: Slowly but surely it seems to grow into a supranational state in which important decisions are taken in Brussels whilst the national interests of the Member States are of lesser importance. This is undemocratic as national parliaments, representatives of the people, have too little power resources to counterbalance. Thus, citizens across Europe are put offside and the gap between citizens and politics only grows bigger.

Eurosceptic parties could tear the EU apart

Eurosceptic parties use this situation to get significant electoral gains. If the EU is not careful, a scenario might arise in which one country after another will try to find a way to separate from the once so solid and firm house that is called the European Union. Especially now as the EU is faced with this development, it is time for European leaders to learn from past mistakes, to regroup and to do everything that lies in their possibilities to regain the citizens’ trust. If this happens, then the Eurosceptic voices in parliament will automatically be silenced and the EU will be able to work on a real solution to the crisis.

by Jens Emmers

Jens Emmers studies Liberal Arts & Sciences at Leiden University in The Hague