Europe's discontent

Italian navy video grab on 13 October 2013 shows immigrants frisked by crew members of a ship after being rescued from the sea off the Italian island of Lampedusa Hostility to EU migrants seems to have become entrenched in the bloc's biggest economies

The election campaign for the European Parliament has begun. It is not that hopeful candidates are already making their pitches to the voters, but the political battleground for next May's contest is being shaped.

The elections will be fought against a background of Europe's discontent. That was underlined yet again at the weekend when a poll for the Financial Times found that "hostility to EU migrants seeking work and benefits is now entrenched in the bloc's biggest economies".

And on the question of whether the EU would do better with fewer powers, two-thirds of Britons agreed but, more surprisingly, so did half of Germans and nearly half of Spanish voters.

Start Quote

Europe's leaders are currently in a race against time, hoping that economic conditions will improve fast enough before an anti-reform and anti-EU backlash undermines the whole single currency project”

End Quote Nicholas Spiro Spiro Sovereign Strategy

A few weeks ago, a poll for Debating Europe found a majority of Europeans believe that the austerity measures pursued since the start of the crisis have failed.

A few months earlier, the Pew Institute discovered that approval ratings for the EU and its institutions have fallen sharply - in almost every country except Germany. In France, only 41% had a favourable view of the EU, which was less than the UK.

The political consensus behind the European project is fracturing. It is quite possible that come next May, 170 MEPs out of a total of 751 will be broadly questioning of or even hostile towards the European establishment.

The main reason for Europe's discontent is the economy. Even though the acute phase of the eurozone crisis has passed, next year, three of the five largest economies in Europe, according to the IMF, will register tepid growth at best.

"Europe's leaders are currently in a race against time, hoping that economic conditions will improve fast enough before an anti-reform and anti-EU backlash undermines the whole single currency project," says Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy.

But economic insecurity is fuelling unease over immigration and migration between EU countries. Anti-establishment parties are tapping into this wider disquiet and voters no longer necessarily believe the Commission's interpretation of figures.

Unpopular compromise
Leonarda Dibrani sits at her home in the town of Mitrovica on 16 October 2013 Leonarda Dibrani was detained whilst on a school trip in France and later deported to Kosovo

The political sensitivity of all this was in full display at the weekend in France, with the government and the president twisting and turning over the case of 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani.

She had been detained whilst on a school trip and later deported to Kosovo after her family had failed to win asylum. The expulsion of Leonarda had brought "les jeunes" (the youth) on to the streets in protest.

French President Francois Hollande, facing pressure from all sides, came up with a formula that satisfied almost no-one. He said that Leonarda could return to school in eastern France on the condition she come back alone without her family.

The president was accused of splitting families, but instant polls revealed that two-thirds of the French public do not want Leonarda to return. The government, in taking a robust stance, is aware of the growing support for the right-wing National Front.

Much attention has recently been focused on the tragic journeys of migrants crossing from Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. My colleagues have been monitoring the speed with which arrivals now move through Europe.

In Italy, where they are supposed to be processed, many are allowed to travel north without having been fingerprinted and without documents.

Rules are bent or ignored in the hope that migrants will move north to places like Sweden where they will get a better welcome. The aim is to make the new arrivals disappear off the news agendas as soon as possible.

Turn back the page?

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The reality is that there is no going back to autonomous national policies for the economy or migration”

End Quote Heather Grabbe and Stefan Lehne Centre for European Reform

Polls suggest deep disapproval of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens being able from next January to work in any member state and yet that is one of the EU's main freedoms.

In a thoughtful essay on the European elections for the Centre for European Reform, Heather Grabbe and Stefan Lehne recognise that the European Parliament is still not "accepted as an essential party of the body politic".

They understand the call for democratic legitimacy, but do not believe the answer lies in allowing the parliament's political groupings to essentially nominate the next head of the European Commission.

They argue that not only could it lead to a partisan president, but that it will not cut much ice with the voters.

They suggest the election campaign should focus on what the EU has done well, the single market, freedom to travel, etc. They would like to see the argument of the anti-establishment parties confronted head-on.

"The reality is that there is no going back to autonomous national policies for the economy or migration," the authors say.

They want to remind voters that "going back" would lead to higher prices and make travel more difficult.

So the battleground is being prepared. The European establishment is determined to make the election about the future of Europe. They will ask voters to decide whether they want to turn back the page and to sacrifice what has been achieved.

Ranged against them will be parties who will argue that austerity has led to mass poverty in southern Europe, that budgets and policies are being set by remote masters and that Brussels is insensitive to fears about migration and immigration.

The months ahead will see fierce debates about the future of the European project.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    #284 MH

    --Wasn´t that Liptons tea party ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    #285 d_m

    --followed the mess carefully --unbelievable.

    A discussion on the Chinese response was avoided by most media. If it happens again, China will probably ´rock the boat´ ?

    --the dog ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    282 Q

    Just busy. Right now getting the last of the winters firewood in. How about you? I was certainly concerned about a default, and will be again pretty soon I expect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    279 QOT

    "Could you please explain that UKIP logic !"

    Oh dear - that might be difficult

    You might like the following comment:

    "Rather worringly over here in the UK we have a party, UKIP, who seem to think that the best place they can get "policy ideas" from is the "Chimpanzees' tea party" in the States...."

    Mardell comment 17/10/13

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Q: Why do married men live longer than single men.
    A: They don't but for some it just seems that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    #280 d_m

    -- nice to know your still kickin´

    --we don´t hear much from you ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    260 Milwauk

    "Fascism, Communism and Naziism"

    But alongside we developed all the things beneficial to mankind

    But 200 years of American history was constant battles exterminating the Indians + a murderous civil war - the worst European excesses and still no culture

    Now US economy is on the slide it spies on the world and invades small countries for their wealth and resources

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    272 Q

    Hey, aren't politics and logic mostly mostly mutually exclusive?


  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    #276 DH

    "What we are, is opposed to our country being governed by the EU."

    #277 DH

    "why doesn't it have the courage of its convictions and order national referenda."

    Could you please explain that UKIP logic !

    -- It suggests a slight confusion --at the best.

    --and not having a clue -- at the worst.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    The EU was and is,moving in the direction of theUSSR!
    Remember them?
    Small groups ofunelected officials making decisionswhich limited the freedom of citizens?
    Members of the Commie club gotbest education,food travel,jobs etc and were totally UNACCOUNTABLE Undemocratic and underskilled!!
    People revolted there too,but were instantly punished withCommie advisors sent in to"Re educate"
    Sound familiar?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    276 cont

    So, if Europe WANTS the EU, fine, help yourself.
    I think you're mad, but it's your funeral.

    But as GH says, EU popularity has fallen drastically. If the EU is serious about legitimacy, why doesn't it have the courage of its convictions and order national referenda.

    A pipe dream of course.
    Since when does any political institution give a monkeys about what the serfs actually want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    151.Pan Albert
    Provided the next UKIP government does not ban us foreigners from them!
    Dear Al,

    Not sure I will be able to persuade you otherwise, but UKIP is not anti-foreign.

    Strictly speaking, we're not even anti-EU.

    What we are, is opposed to our country being governed by the EU.

    Our 3 main political parties are all pro-EU, which is why the UKIP vote in the EU elections will be huge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    274 Rockabilly Red

    He does have a point. Two thousand years of European history is easily a testament man's brutish nature. However, dredging up the past in this way is a fool's errand, as none of us is in a position to cast the first stone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Re 260: For somebody signing themselves as 'MilwaukeeRay', may I remind you of: Wounded Knee; The Indian Removal Act; The Trail of Tears.

    The US government waged what was effectively, a war of genocide on Native Americans, for almost 200 years. Don't lecture us on civilised behaviour and culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.


    "are you married ?"

    Tell us what you know about Turkish atrocities in N.Cyprus and WWI and Turkish police brutality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.


    The tone of the article in the Wiener Kurier is different:

    Merkel's plans mean countries being under the direct control of "Brussels" i.e. those that are not already so. That will not go down well and if they get their "European Army" could result in war, IMUO

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    247.margaret howard

    "UKIPs promises sound OK but I could never vote for a man who wears a camel coat with a velvet collar"

    When I vote for UKIP, I am not voting for Farage, I am voting to be free of the sick, money-wasting, arrogant, dangerous, megalomaniac rubbish called the "EU"

    When vote for AfD, I am voting for my German pensions to be saved from the Euro-desaster

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    258.Pan Albert

    I have tried today to reply to some of your previous posts but the moderators have unreasonably removed my truthful and swear-word-free replies

    It will not be possible to have a debate on the "EU" here because certain important matters are undiscussable

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    267. sieuarlu

    And exactly where do you think most of the profits from work performed in China goes? That's right, American corporations

    Brilliant,net result to Jo Soap in the US zilch.Out of work,for good measure.American corporations took jobs from the US set up in China sold products back to US & pocketed the proceeds.What school of business study s did they go to, Benedict Arnold ?


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