The unprecedented gains registered by smaller parties in the eighth direct polls to the European Parliament present yet again a real challenge to the victor — the centre-right European People’s Party. Deep scepticism concerning the purpose and objectives of the transnational entity that is the European Union (EU) — comprising 28 countries — binds these EU-sceptic parties. With the latest results, the European project is in need of a fresh infusion of life into the post-War vision of an economically integrated, politically unified and peaceful continent. Such a vision has repeatedly come under strain within individual states — most recently after the global financial and economic crisis and the banking and credit crunch within the Eurozone took their toll. But EU-sceptic parties have been stoking popular fears over the influx of migrants ever since the 2004 expansion of the EU into the eight countries of the former Eastern Europe. The outright rejection in France and the Netherlands, two founding EU member-states, of the European Constitution in the 2005 popular referendum marked the climactic conversion of EU-phobia and anti-immigrant sentiment into a potent political currency by the parties of the far-right.
It is in France, also the bloc’s second largest economy, that the Front National has beaten both the mainstream parties in this election, capturing 26 per cent of the vote share. The other topper is the stridently anti-immigrant and EU-sceptic UK Independence Party that trounced the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party. The extreme left party in Greece has emerged as the other major anti-establishment platform in these polls; not to mention small inroads made by Germany’s new party that is sceptical of the Eurozone rather than the EU itself. It remains to be seen whether the anti-EU parties have the requisite numbers to function as a cohesive political group within Parliament — at least 25 seats from seven different states. Of interest also would be whether these parties can rise above their own internal contradictions rooted in nationalism and other such narrow and sectarian considerations. Previous attempts in the not-so-distant past came a cropper. Parties of the mainstream know the value of pursuing policies that generate employment and induce growth. They are equally aware of the negative political fallout of deviation from this path. Herein also lies the answer to removing the democratic deficit of EU institutions. A key aspect of the latter is the declining voter-participation in successive elections to the EU Parliament. The prospects for regional integration globally would be strengthened immeasurably by an invigorated bloc of 28 states in Europe.