by John Q on June 16, 2004

The success of Eurosceptic parties like the UK Independence Party, has contributed to generally negative coverage of the recent EU Parliamentary elections. Although I disagree with UKIP, I think its success is a good thing.

From my perspective as a sympathetic outside observer, the biggest single problem with the EU is the “democratic deficit” arising from the fact that the European Parliament isn’t really responsible to voters, though it is no longer a rubber-stamp for unelected officials. Most voters vote for national parties on the basis of national issues.

By contrast, the UKIP is running on a specifically European issue, and putting forward a legitimate viewpoint, though apparently one held by only a minority of British voters. It’s up to those who disagree to respond in kind.

One obvious response would be for candidates to run under the banner of their EU Parliamentary grouping instead of, or in addition to, that of their national party. The obvious objections to this course of action don’t, in my view stand up to scrutiny.

The first is that these parties would be unfamiliar to voters. But many European countries have experienced the rise of new parties at the national level or the renaming of existing ones without the electors collapsing into a state of confusion.

The second, related objection, is that this course of action would alienate core supporters. No doubt there are some supporters of, say, the German Social Democratic Party who would be less inclined to vote for the European Socialist Party. But surely there are far more German voters with broadly social-democratic views who wanted to give Helmut Schmidt Gerhard Schroeder a kicking, and took the opportunity in the EU elections.

Going further, the history of the rise and decline of parties is that a fundamental challenge on a new issue tends to force previously opposing parties into coalition or fusion. As far as European issues go, the differences between pro-EU socialists, social democrats, liberals and moderate christian democrats are less significant than the difference between all these groups on one side and the Eurosceptics on the other.

Update Josh Chafetz disagrees, on the basis that the UKIP is filled with “racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, and homophobes” and compares the outcome to Le Pen’s successes in France.

I’m not surprised that the UKIP would attract the kinds of people Josh writes about, but I don’t accept his point. Whereas Le Pen openly runs on a platform of racism, the stated policies of the UKIP represent a legitimate viewpoint. Since there’s little danger of the UKIP obtaining executive power, the personal character of its members isn’t a critical concern.

To carry the point a little bit further, I’ve cast votes in the past for “protest” parties such as the Nuclear Disarmament Party, knowing that they were at least partly controlled by Trotskyists using tactics of “entryism”. I don’t see any reason not to do this if I support the stated platform of the party and judge that there’s no danger that my vote will somehow produce a Trotskyist government.

To recapitulate though, my main point is that European Parliamentary elections should be about European issues, and if it takes the success of UKIP and like-minded groups to bring this about, so be it. Matthew Yglesias has more



harry 06.16.04 at 1:55 am

What do you think of arguing to alter the voting system so that there is a single pan-European system? I’m not suggesting it would get adopted anytime soon, but it might be worth making the argument to highlight the non-nation-specificness of many European issues.


pepi 06.16.04 at 7:39 am

I strongly disagree. What exactly is the issue the UKIP has been putting forward, other than complete rejection of any EU institutions? Meanwhile, their 12 anti-EU members will be taking home thousands of Euros each month, plus all the extra benefits, while they keep whining about the entire EU being a giant waste of money. How’s that for coherence.

What good can it possibly do when you have that kind of cheap anti-EU populists growing? I don’t see how it’s any better than the opposite wildly over-enthusiastic approach that worships the EU like a godsend and denies any problem, a la Prodi. I would like to see more of the reasonable in-between approach instead.

I also disagree on the suggestion you make for the Parliament. I don’t think it’s a problem of simple “confusion” to change party names, it’s about political identity. If I’m voting for a party that exists in my country, I know they’ll work with other like-minded ones in the same group but I also know they’ll have more specific agendas and a history I am familiar with and know I can rely on. I don’t like alliances that stretch too far. I’m very biased in that sense because I come from the Italian experience, and I believe it’s no good when parties with a long history disband and change names and you end up with christian democrats together with socialists and even communists in the same coalition, it’s a mess. It’s a betrayal of the voters, too. If they ever manage to go along, you just get these wishy washy groups that have no appeal. Which seems to be a bigger problem especially for the left. So, even in a Parliament that has less power such as the EU one, I still prefer political identities to be as separate and as nation-based as possible. If we want to give more power to Parliament, then you need to change the the way the EU institutions are organised – regardless of the parties and how they are grouped.


p-trick 06.16.04 at 7:48 am

You’re right when it comes to the problem of national issues influencing European Elections. When looking at the situation in Belgium the problem is even worse.
This year European and regional elections were held on the same day, and it clearly turned out to be based on a debate on federal (i.e. national) politics.
What makes things even worse is our system of effective candidates and successors, which means that someone who’s elected as an effective candidate can be replaced by his/hers successor.
Result: our prime minister and lots of other national politicians were candidates for the European elections, but will never end up in European Parliament – they are immediately replaced by their less known successor. This system makes it really hard for people to keep distinct ellections really separated.
I suppose I’m still pro-Europe. It seems to me that the problems with the European Union – and there are some really huge problems – can’t be solved by a simple Eurosceptic position. Unfortunately pro-European parties are affraid to talk about those problems – even if eventually they will have to solve them.


duaneg 06.16.04 at 9:25 am

The UK independence party are either stupid, nuts or very nasty indeed. As always, the first seems the smart bet. Frankly I don’t think they, or anyone, could “take Britain out of Europe” now, even if they somehow got into power. For a start they would only have one term, at most. The effects would become apparent within that timeframe.

No doubt there are some supporters of, say, the German Social Democratic Party who would be less inclined to vote for the European Socialist Party

I’ve heard wonderful stories of the byzantine factions and feuds of the Socialists of yore. It would be entertaining to see the same thing played out across modern Europe in the Internet age. Maybe the BBC could commission a new reality show?


Doug 06.16.04 at 9:42 am

Yes, but people vote in state elections for national parties based on national issues all of the time. At least here in Germany, state elections are thought to be something like a series of referenda on the national government. Local conditions have a certain degree of impact on both issues and expectations, but there is always more attention paid in the press to presumed national implications.

If it’s not wrong at the state level, why should it be wrong at the European level?


Dan Hardie 06.16.04 at 2:20 pm

‘But surely there are far more German voters with broadly social-democratic views who wanted to give Helmut Schmidt a kicking, and took the opportunity in the EU elections.’
Um- Helmut Schmidt was the German Chancellor from 1974 to 1982. So I suspect that not that many voters in the recent elections were too motivated by giving him a kicking. I think you may mean ‘Gerhard Schroeder’.


Dave F 06.17.04 at 11:37 am

Surely everyone votes for some exotic alternative at the annual EU election arse-kicking contest? I voted Labour in British elections, but Green in the EU ones (just keeping em on their toes). Let’s not get too serious about the faux-democratic charade that sits atop the giant Brussels lootocracy like a diseased cherry on a cream mountain.


Tom Grey 06.18.04 at 3:37 pm

Le Pen CORRECTLY identified a significant issue, immigration and the evolution of France from its history of tolerant-Christianity. And France seems to be moving towards a mix of Bush-hate/ America-hate/ and barely acknowledged Jew-hate, while accepting more Muslims.
Big gov’t Left & Big gov’t Right, and France getting weaker.

And the EU skeptics don’t want big gov’t France & big gov’t Germany controlling the EU, making it bigger, and making the UK, or other countries weaker.

The purpose of the EU is to make mutually beneficial agreements & treaties between the nation states. It should plausibly expand to protect the individuals FROM excesses of their nation states.

Instead of EU regulations on business and people, ALL EU regulations should be on national gov’ts, starting with a naming & shaming campaign of transparent accountability.

As long as overpaid, corrupt bureaucrats in Brussels are trying to create an 80 000 page regulation monster of gov’t, more folk should vote for getting out of the mess — to spur a clean up.

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