The European Election results of Sunday 25th May delivered a stunning blow to mainstream politician’s all over the continent, not least in the UK. In part at least, this protest vote reflects the economic, social and political malaise triggered by recession and financial crisis. Even if you have little interest in politics, this is worth knowing about.
Across Europe there is still little economic growth. Only the Germans grew, by a respectable .8% in the first quarter of this year, whilst Italy’s actually went backwards. In France too, the performance of the economy has been catastrophic; 1 in 8 young French voters are unemployed. Even in the UK (and we are not in the Euro-zone at the moment), where economic activity has revived and unemployment fallen substantially, the UKIP party won a stunning victory, indicating that protest is not exclusively related to economics. It is equally to do with loss of national identity and independence.
As usual, economic stagnation and social tensions have stimulated resentment with migrants, anti-racialism and antisemitism on both the left and right of the political spectrum.
The French-German axis (and mainstay of the European Union) is beginning to fracture. The UK is moving steadily to the right and out of Europe. In Italy, Spain and Greece, left and right are becoming disenchanted with the European project.
Nor is the future likely to get much better, sadly. Current financial deflation will influence the heavily-indebted Euro-zone countries (already mentioned) that are experiencing falling prices and thus increasing even further their national debt. It is a vicious circle.
There is also trouble on Europe”s eastern borders. Russia and Ukraine are, amongst other things, sliding into recession themselves, which will have a knock-on effect in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Migration to the UK from these countries, already a source of much social and media discontent, will likely increase further as a result, and political parties will become more right-wing in stance. And all of this with Alex Salmond urging Scots to lose the shackles of the rest of the UK come September – Sunday 25th May will be held up as a reason why this would be a good idea.
However, it is worth remembering that protest politics is inherently unstable: None of the groups who swept the poll on Sunday have a coherent set of policies. All are one issue pressure-groups. Many bitterly disagree with one another. Almost all see the danger of being branded with racism and antisemitism. If the electoral results on Sunday act as a “Wake up call” to the leaders of the main parties in the UK and Europe, xenophobic groups like UKIP will have done both the Conservative and Labour parties a service, come next May.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.