Monday, May 26, 2014

Did The European Parliament Elections Show That The European Union Is Doomed?

There has been much moaning and wailing and gnashing of teeth in many quarters over the outcome of the European parliementary elections.  In many nations nationalist anti-immigrant parties made substantial gains, and many observers have argued this shows general disaffection with the European Union.  Supposedly Putin is overjoyed that parties led by people who admire him, such as Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France, and also like traditional values, have done so well.  Does this mean The End Is Night For The EU?  Probably not.

Certainly there is much unhappiness out there in the EU.  But the unpleasant results may not matter all that much nor indicate all that much.  While the European parliament is gaining increased powers, it remains still largely toothless compared with national legislatures.  Apathy is more what has been seen, with apparently a lower turnout than any previously.  Angry voters wanting to "send a message" have turned out, but otherwise not much has happened, and the more centrist parties will remain in control there, despite what appear to be embarrassing results for those centrist parties in several nations.

The other point, noticed by few observers and why I am shooting this off, is that amazingly enough the nations where we saw the biggest gains by these far right parties are not in the nations that have suffered the worst economic impacts from the euro crisis and Great Recession.  The three that saw a far right party do the best of any part are UK, France, and Denmark.  The UK is not even in the euro and its economic problems are due to its own policies, not the ECB or  the EU more broadly.  I have no particular explanation why France and Denmark showed their particular results, but note that Denmark is also not in the euro, and neither has been a particularly bad performer economically relative to other nations in the EU, despite much negative press coverage about France in particular.  Indeed, as many commentators have recently noted, France's job performance has been arguably superior, or at least no worse, than that in the US.

What may be surprising is that the nations where we have seen victories by overtly anti-EU parties have  not included the PIIGS nations, with one exception, these being the nations where economic suffering has been the worst, with that suffering arguably due to some extent being in the eurozone and suffering from policies imposed by the dominant Germans through the ECB, and so on.  The one exception is indeed the nation that has suffered the worst economic damage of all, Greece.  And there, the party that won is the main opposition party, left-wing Syriza, not a racist anti-immigrant party like France's National Front.  Indeed, it is not an anti-EU party at all.  Its complaint is against the austerity policies noted above, perfectly understandable that there would be unhappiness there about those.  What is amazing is that such parties did not do better in other of the more economically suffering nations rather than relatively well-off ones.

So, there are certainly reasons to worry about some of the political trends and manifestations going on in Europe, but offhand they are not nearly as bad as some of the publicity associated with them, and in the end they say much less about the future viability of the EU or even the eurozone than many are claiming.   Nobody should get all relaxed over this, but this is also not worthy of panicking over.

Barkley Rosser

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