Senior EU figures cast doubt on anti-EU parties’ elections success

Written by Martin Banks on 9 April 2019 in News

ECR leader Jan Zahradil has joined former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane and former UK MEP Andrew Duff in questioning the findings of a major study that claims that “anti-European” parties are on course to win up to one third of seats in the next European Parliament.

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The respected European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) study predicts such groups will do well in May’s European elections, enabling them to “frustrate activity, undermine the security and defence of Europe and ultimately sow discord that could destroy the EU over time.”

The exhaustive ECFR report, “2019 European Elections: How anti-Europeans plan to wreck Europe and what can be done to stop it” warns that, despite divisions between anti-European parties, they are likely to work together to “undermine” European cooperation.

It concludes that the elections will be most significant ever, and that the future of Europe, “as an international power capable of guaranteeing security and prosperity to its citizens, is at stake.”


ECFR director Mark Leonard, a seasoned EU observer, said: “The warning in this report is that anti-European parties are gaining strength and could paralyse the EU.”

The study claims to be the most comprehensive mapping yet of the impact anti-European parties may have in the 2019 elections.

It examines what is at stake in each of Europe’s 27 Member States and considers the influence anti-European parties could wield on key issues such as trade, security, climate change and the EU budget if they collaborate in the European Parliament.

The results are drawn from researchers in EU capitals, interviews with political parties, policymakers and policy experts the study.

“Loud-mouth anti-Europeans tend to stay in Rome or Berlin and national capitals, ranting about Europe, but not actually seeking to be elected as MEPs” Denis MacShane, former UK Europe Minister

Success in the elections could be used as springboard for success in national elections by Europe’s nationalists, the ECFR says.

“Their greatest impact on the elections might be on a wave of national elections in Denmark, Estonia and Slovakia over the next year, which could bring nationalists to power as coalition partners, frustrating the work of the European Council.”

However, Denis MacShane has played down such pessimism, saying he is “not convinced” by the report or its projections for the EU-wide elections.

The former Labour MP told this website, “The main centre-right, centre-left, liberal parties and green parties which are broadly pro-European will win around 420 seats.”

“Macron is topping the polls in France and the new French pro-EU MEPs from En Marche will strengthen the broad pro-EU majority.”

“Add in the harder left parties in the GUE groups like Syriza and pro-European left parties that want a different more Socialist Europe and you have about 470 seats.”

“The Europhobe populist parties hate each other as much as they may dislike Brussels. UKIP and anti-EU Tory MEPs disappearing is a loss to the anti-European parties.”

“At the heart of so-called 'populism' is an idea that resonates with people who feel incredibly disenfranchised by the current system, and being labelled in this way by political parties and organisations whose policies they have an issue with is hardly going to encourage them to change their minds" Jan Zahradil MEP

“In addition, parties like Marine Le Pen National Rally or Matteo Salvini's Lega have dropped their demands for referendums on leaving the EU or dropping the Euro as they see the disaster of Brexit in Britain.”

He added, “Marine Le Pen is leaving the European Parliament to focus on domestic politics and loud-mouth anti-Europeans tend to stay in Rome or Berlin and national capitals ranting about Europe but not actually seeking to be elected as MEPs.”

MacShane said the post-election scenario would not be as dire as is portrayed in the report, saying, “While the new MEPs elected for 2019-2024 will be less homogenous than some of the past European Parliaments, the fashionable view that the extreme right are about to conquer Brussels and Strasbourg is unlikely to happen.”

His comments were partly endorsed by Jan Zahradil, an ECR Czech MEP, who said, "Going into the next European elections no ECR group parties are campaigning to leave the EU, yet many are labelled as being anti-European simply for having a different view over how the EU should work."

"The self-titled ‘pro-Europeans’ need to stop behaving as if they own the EU. It belongs to the people. Labelling anyone or a party who has a different view over how the EU works as 'anti-European' is disingenuous to the millions of people across Europe who feel that the EU has grown too distant and too out of touch with voters' real concerns.”

Zahradil added, "At the heart of so called 'populism' is an idea that resonates with people who feel incredibly disenfranchised by the current system, and being labelled in this way by political parties and organisations whose policies they have an issue with is hardly going to encourage them to change their minds."

Further reaction came from former UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff, who said, “I think my friends at ECFR have become a little over-excited. It must be carnival time.”

But Susi Dennison, director of the European Power programme at ECFR, made a robust defence of the study, saying it “shows how high the stakes are and how much damage the anti-Europeans could do.”

She added, “As well as frustrating EU action that will help Europe’s citizens - from trade deals to action against Russian aggression - they will use their power in the European Parliament as a launch pad to transform politics throughout Europe.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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