The paradox at the heart of Europe is revealed today in new research which shows that the share of votes of Eurosceptic parties has more than doubled in two decades, even though support for the EU remains at record levels.
The sharp increase in the electoral success of Eurosceptic parties is exposed in research by academic experts on populism and radicalism across the EU who have shared their work with the Guardian.
“European leaders who support the EU integration process absolutely cannot afford to sit idly by and be complacent,” said Matthijs Rooduijn, political scientist at the University of Amsterdam, the one of the PopuList project managers. âEurosceptic parties are very successful and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. “
The project defines Euroscepticism as encompassing both a “hard” variant – outright rejection of European political and economic integration and staunch opposition to staying in the EU – and softer and more nuanced objections to aspects. particulars of the European project.
The study’s publication comes five weeks after Britain became the first country to voluntarily withdraw from the EU, and it coincides with an editorial commitment by the Guardian to deepen its coverage of Europe.
The study shows that since 1992, the first year in which free and fair elections have been held in every now-member country of the EU, the combined support for European far-right, far-left and other parties Eurosceptic parties fell from 15% to almost 35%.
After more or less stagnation for over a decade, support for Euroscepticism – which began to emerge as a marginal electoral theme for European far-right parties after the 1992 Maastricht Treaty – has started to climb quickly from 2005.
Rooduijn attributes the increase mainly to the pronounced Eurosceptic turn of the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS), which sees itself as a âChristian bulwarkâ. He notes a similar sharp increase in 2010 when Hungarian Fidesz – âthe future of Europe,â according to its leader, Viktor OrbÃ¡n – fully embraced Euroscepticism.
A third surge of support, this time among âother Euroscepticsâ, came in 2013, reflecting the emergence of the Five Star Movement (M5S) in Italy. Far-right and far-left Euroscepticism grew further in 2015 with the growing popularity of Alternative fÃ¼r Deutschland in Germany and Podemos in Spain.
Rooduijn suggested that these four distinct waves of growing Eurosceptic electoral success could further be linked to the EU’s eastward expansion in 2004 and to the French and Dutch referendums of 2005 on the draft European constitution; the 2010 eurozone crisis; and the 2015 migration crisis and the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“These new data show that the increase in electoral successes of these parties is greater than previously thought,” said Rooduijn. âThis is striking because it means that today more than one in three Europeans votes for a party critical of the EU.
The success of Eurosceptic parties, however, “is only partly due to their actual Euroscepticism,” Rooduijn said. âFor almost all of them, the question of European unification is only secondary, even tertiary. Their electoral successes are mainly due to their positions on other issues.
He cited the example of the far-right Eurosceptic parties, which represent around half of all parties the project classifies as Eurosceptics. “These parties focus primarily on the issue of immigration,” said Rooduijn. “So although the EU plays an important role for them and their constituents as well, it is not their central problem.”
Multiple studies have shown that public opinion in the EU has, on average, become more positive over the past four years, apparently reflecting the growing uncertainties caused by the disruption of the UK vote on Brexit and the election to states -Unis of Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his hostility towards the EU.
In a Eurobarometer survey carried out last year by the European Parliament, 68% of respondents believed that EU countries as a whole had benefited from their EU membership, the highest level since 1983, while 61% thought their country’s membership in the bloc was a good thing. , a figure recorded only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
A Pew Research Center study last October also reported high overall approval rates and a strong sense that EU membership had been good for respondents’ countries, with particularly high satisfaction levels in countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and over 80% in the former communist states of Poland and Lithuania.
At the same time, alarmed by the popular reaction against Brexit, European populist leaders like the French Marine Le Pen, the Italian Matteo Salvini and the Dutch Geert Wilders are no longer calling for Frexit, Italexit or Nexit.
Instead, said Cas Mudde, a populism scholar at the University of Georgia in the United States, while most of Europe’s radical right-wing populist parties remain Eurosceptic, they are now seeking to “reform the EU by a looser and more democratic organization that returns national sovereignty to member states – although they differ on the nature of the future Europe they want.
Yet despite the large increase in public support for the EU in general and the softer stance of many previously die-hard Eurosceptic parties, the latest data from the PopuList project indicates that “when it comes to actual voting behavior and of parliamentary representation, Euroscepticism is still alive. Rooduijn said.
One of the reasons is simply the growing importance of the EU as a problem, he said. âDue to the accumulation of various events related to the EU, such as Brexit, the euro area and the migration crises, the attention paid to the EU has increased over the years. Moreover, it is likely to remain at the top of the political agenda. “
The PopuList, an overview of populist, far-right, far-left and Eurosceptic parties in Europe reviewed by 80 national experts, categorizes all European parties that obtained at least 2% of the vote – or parliamentary representation – in at least one country election since 1989. Its updated version is released Tuesday.