UK election paves way for stronger EU ties
Elections in Europe have become of little interest to the public, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The main, established, parties follow uninspired programmes based on a mediocre common denominator. The public’s frustration with politics is shown in declining participation and new parties often labelled in campaigns as extremists.
Another consequence of this frustration has been that the ruling party is often voted out, with very few exceptions - and those that hang on do so because of a lack of credible contenders.
The UK elections held on Thursday, May 7, were different.
Two new forces, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), challenged the long-established Conservative and Labour parties.
The pollsters saw a close run between Conservatives and Labour and predicted neither would reach a majority. Talk of coalitions was rife.
Against all predictions, the Conservatives reached a majority with 331 seats. Labour, with 232 seats, lost heavily especially in Scotland to the SNP which won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats.
The Conservative triumph is thanks to its leader, David Cameron, his cabinet's policy, and his campaign strategy.
So why is this election so interesting when most other European elections are of marginal interest?
There are two important issues - EU membership and the unity of the UK.
David Cameron, in order to prevent the eurosceptic wing of his party defecting to UKIP, promised to hold a referendum by 2017 on the UK’s membership in the EU. This was not on Labour's agenda.
This referendum will now go ahead, but how can we evaluate the results for Europe?
The success of the SNP shows that the issue of Scottish independence has not gone away despite the Scottish public voting to stay in the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum.
It will be a challenge for David Cameron to maintain relations with Scotland in order to keep the UK united.
It is certainly not in Europe's interest to deal with an economically weak independent Scotland dependent on transfer payments from England.
A Labour victory would probably have avoided a referendum on EU membership, but Labour’s programme would have weakened the UK's economy considerably. Its plan to freeze energy prices would have been likely to jeopardise the UK's energy security.
Britain’s economic strength would have been endangered by Labour's policies. This would have been exacerbated by a Labour government depending on the SNP for support.
A UK exit from the EU is certainly not in Europe’s interests.
While David Cameron's referendum promise jeopardises the UK’s membership, public acceptance in a referendum to stay in the EU would strengthen that membership and Britain’s role in Europe.
Labour would have been unlikely to question EU membership. And it is doubtful whether Europe could have managed the UK - its third largest economy - should the UK have encountered serious economic problems and deficiencies under Labour. The EU already has enough weak members.
David Cameron's success is good for Europe. The UK is not another weak member and it will play an increasingly stronger role in Europe after a referendum confirming British membership.
European self-determination and subsidiarity