Dr Simon Usherwood
As Gallup have reminded me today, it’s only a year until the next European Parliament elections. At the moment, that looks like it will be a red-letter day for eurosceptics.
This is evident at a number of levels. Firstly, Gallup found that a third of French and Germans and a fifth of Poles would vote to leave the EU, if offered the option. This goes a long way beyond the usual suspects like the UK (the only one of the six surveyed states with a majority in favour of exit). Secondly, in all six states, more people felt the EU was moving in the wrong direction than in the right direction.
Overall, the picture is rather gloomy. Even though most people think that there is a value to the EU and to membership, there has been a spread of critical voices across the continent.
Moreover, the mobilisation of pro-Union voices and groups remains relatively weak. Texts by Verhofstadt & Cohn-Bendit or Beck that might have provided agendas around which to coalesce, have instead come to little more than some nodding of heads.
Taken together, it makes it more than likely that anti-EU parties will do relatively well next year: they have an improved position in relation to public opinion and a lack of serious competitors amongst parties, many of which are working through their own internal debates on the purpose and direction of integration.
This will not mean the end of the Union, whatever anyone says, but it will confirm a longer-term trend with which the Union has had to contend. By simple dint of its persistence, scepticism has become somewhat conventional and acceptable (at least in the sense of being present). The continued failure of the institutions and member states to find an effective repost to sceptical voices, either through challenging them or co-opting them, makes them stronger and more legitimate as positions: if what they stand for is unanswerable, then shouldn’t we be paying more attention?
Of course, this is only reinforced by the relatively low levels of knowledge and interest that most people display. The debate is thus largely notional, rather than substantive, which suits that large section of sceptic activity that has no deeper ideology behind it.
Unless and until the Union recognises the situation in which it is in, the longer and the worse that situation will get, which is not a good way to make public policy. Sadly, I would expect that even when the results come in, we will still find ourselves on the same path.
Dr Simon Usherwood is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Politics, University of Surrey.