The results of mid-June's European Parliament elections should be setting off alarm bells in every European capital. Governing parties in almost all the major countries, from Tony Blair's Labor to Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats, were resoundingly trounced, indicating a surprisingly deep wellspring of political dissatisfaction and unease. Voters also seem turned off by the very idea of a united Europe: As many as 100 incoming members of the 732-strong Parliament are now avowed Euroskeptics. Half of Britain's new members of the European Parliament are in that camp, including 12 from the U.K. Independence Party, which is dedicated to pulling Britain completely out of the European Union. Their mission in the European Parliament, says incoming member Robert Kilroy-Silk: "Wreck it."
The most worrying Euroskeptic trend, though, comes from the EU's new member states, such as Poland, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic, which are sending representatives to the European Parliament for the first time. Instead of enthusiasm, there has been profound apathy: In Poland, for example, only 20.4% of the electorate turned out to vote, and in Slovakia, just 17%.
The root causes of this malaise aren't difficult to discern. After a decade of economic stagnation in the euro zone, many voters simply no longer believe that an increasingly united political Europe can deliver the promised growth, prosperity, and employment.
If European leaders can muster the political courage to carry out sweeping reforms of inflexible labor markets, reduce stultifyingly high tax rates, and promote entrepreneurship -- all reforms that they have repeatedly promised in recent years -- there could be a rekindling of enthusiasm for building stronger, more efficient European institutions. If not, the current disaffection could turn into something more corrosive. "Many have consoled themselves thinking that, whatever happens, once the euro has been introduced, there will be no turning back in Europe," wrote Italian political scientist Ernesto Galli della Loggia. But "who imagined even six months before the fact that the USSR and its empire would fall apart and that Leningrad would become Saint Petersburg again?" If Europeans care at all about a strong Europe, they should begin thinking about building a better one, not just bigger.