European elections: what if eurosceptic parties increase their presence?

Why is the rise of populist eurosceptic parties across Europe a threat to the EU?

Professor Dr Michael Wohlgemuth:

I don’t see a direct threat for the EU as an organisation or an institution, but I suspect this vote could be seen as a vote of no confidence, or at least no confidence in the European parliament. Probably a large majority of European citizens would not even bother to vote, and of those who would vote perhaps a third would vote for eurosceptic parties. This can create some disillusionment in European institutions.

What is the likely outcome if anti-EU parties increase their presence in the European parliament?

Professor Dr Michael Wohlgemuth:

I see three major consequences. One would be in the European parliament itself. I expect a grand coalition to emerge, which has been the case many times before, which is the centre right and centre left parties would have to work together to get a majority in the European parliament. Because, with this large block of eurosceptics from the left and from the right, you would not vote with the major mainstream parties. This kind of grand coalition would become a necessity, almost.

The second point, I think there would be a rather big showdown when it comes to electing the new president of the European Commission. These elections should be different from the ones before because the result of the elections should be reflected by the nominations of the candidate for the president of the commission.

However, I expect that neither Martin Schultz or Jean-Claude Juncker to really get a majority in the European parliament – and they are pretty close, a bit less than 30% in the latest polls. So it will become rather difficult to say the one with just a few more seats will be the direct candidate for the presidency of the Commission. So there’s some trouble ahead.

And the third consequence that I expect is not so much within the European parliament, but in the national governments and national parliaments.

In some really important countries in the European Union – France, Italy and Greece for example – they will have a great turnout of euroscpectic voters for some parties which will push their governments towards a less integrationist policy and a more nationalist, protectionist, anti-austerity policies.

And a similar thing can happen in the northern countries – Finland, the Netherlands and Austria - where you have these rather far right wing parties that will not be willing to show solidarity with the other countries within the eurozone, and will make it more difficult for their national governments to agree on further integration of the European Union.

Since 1979 the EU election turnout had dropped from 63 to 42 per cent. How can the EU re-engage with the electorate?

Professor Dr Michael Wohlgemuth:

It is difficult to say. For many voters it does not really matter. Voters regard these elections as a second order election, an opportunity to voice their frustration with their national governments. In a way they are also right, because the European parliament is not a normal parliament that would elect a normal government.

And also if you look at the posters and the campaigns here in Germany, but also in other country, its hard to see what the real questions are, where the real differences are between the mainstream parties, between these top candidates – Schultz and Junckers – and this is not really a good way to mobilise voters to say ‘this is really your choice and your voice counts’.

A large abstention can be seen that people don’t see a need for change, they just don’t see the point. But I think in this case, most voters don’t realise that the European parliament can change a lot. And this is why large abstention is quite likely to happen.

Also the European parliament itself cannot really show what its role is in some very important questions such as the eurozone bailouts. Here the European parliament did not play a role as the national governments were deciding that among themselves.

All this adds up to some disillusionment perhaps, and people don’t really see what their individual vote would change with these European policies.

(photo credit:dpa)