Commentary & Opinion
12:45 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

Herbert London: The European Vote Message

Political analysts are having a field day combing through the ashes of the recent elections for the European Parliament.

Once fringe parties, they have now entered the European mainstream reflecting dissatisfaction with EU policies, including high unemployment, austerity measures, and excessive immigration. The ugly and persistent face of anti-Semitism has also arisen yet again as blame seekers search for a scapegoat.

There is little doubt that European politics will reverberate to domestic politics in France and the United Kingdom where the National Front and the Independence Party are bound to play significant roles. Clearly xenophobic concerns about the Muslim population and its inability to integrate into European societies is a factor behind the rise of the Right. But that isn’t the only, or in my judgment, the major factor for the electoral result.

The main take away from the election is EU skepticism. A position once in the minority, led by Lady Thatcher, has now gained traction across the continent. National voters do not want to be held hostage to decisions in Brussels. The Belgium bureaucracy has one overarching goal in mind and this is the harmonization of continental policies that overlooks history, national idiosyncrasies and the issue of self government.

Just as the tide is turning against the E.U., European leaders such as Markel of Germany and Hollande in France are calling for greater economic coordination than Europe experienced in the past in order to ensure the survival of the euro. At the same time, leaders, heeding the message of the election result, are calling for curbs on workers from other parts of the bloc.

At the risk of predication, this electoral earthquake is merely the first tremor. Europe is likely to be seized by painful decisions, most of them suggesting the E.U. experiment was a failure. What has been gained in lower transaction costs has come at the price of national sovereignty. Too bad the European leaders did not take Joseph Conrad seriously who said “sovereign power is a fixed standard of conduct.” Take it away and people rebel.

How can even a semblance of democracy be retained as fiscal authority moves inexorably to Brussel’s bureaucrats? Senior UMP lawmaker Luc Chatel of the German center-right party said, “We need group therapy.” The dire talk reflects deep seated anxiety in every crevice of continental political life. Moreover, there is little room for maneuver. Either one is in – an embrace of the EU – or one is out. As has been noted many times before, you cannot be half pregnant.

When Hollande reshuffled his government nominating the centrist Manuel Valts as prime minister, he hoped this would invigorate a stubbornly slow economy. But France’s burdensome labor costs, particularly payroll taxes, militate against economic revitalization. Real reform of the kind Marine Le Pen has been advocating has found a home in a disgruntled citizenry eager for liberation from EU regulations.

When national elections take place, the anti EU voice will be heard one way or another. In fact, it cannot be ignored. This is a democratic insurrection building from England to Greece and it carries worrisome baggage along with a cri de coeur for national sovereignty. Is anyone paying attention?

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries atwww.londoncenter.org

 

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