If the Anti-Europeans Took Over Europe

Voters in the European Parliament elections that end Sunday are expected to back more populist parties than ever before. What would a European Union that adapts to their ideas look like?
Europe's own Tower of Babel. Photographer: Jasper Juinen / Bloomberg

Voters in the European Parliament elections that end Sunday are expected to back more populist and anti-European Union parties than ever before. These parties won't run anything, but it's worth asking: What would an EU that adapts to their ideas look like? Denitsa Raynova and Ian Kearns at the European Leadership Network have just produced an interesting guide to the foreign policies of these parties. It paints a dystopian potential future that Europe's mainstream political parties should take to heart.

QuickTake The European Parliament

The guide covers the eight populist parties most likely to score well in the May 22-25 vote: The U.K. Independence Party, the Front National in France, the left-wing Syriza party in Greece, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Danish People's Party, Austria's Freedom Party, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and Jobbik in Hungary. Here is a brief synopsis:

All want their countries either to pull out of the EU or to reduce its supranational powers.

Most want EU trade treaties repatriated to reflect national interests and favor protectionist measures.

All want to reduce immigration, and many to restrict the free movement of labor within the EU.

Those outside the euro currency want their countries to stay out; those inside want to leave (France and the Netherlands) or hold votes on leaving (Italy), or break it into pieces (Austria), or radically change its policies (Greece).

They admire Russian President Vladimir Putin as their kind of no-nonsense leader, and generally blame the EU for Ukraine's plight. This interest is reciprocated; Putin understands that these parties can help him in undermining the EU unity that damages Russia's ability to impose prices and policies on EU countries that individually are smaller and weaker than Russia, but collectively much bigger.

Two parties (the French Front National and Syriza in Greece) want their countries to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and distance themselves from the U.S.

Several (France, the U.K. and Austria) want cuts to international development aid. Jobbik wants to end support for Israel.

There are at least two things to say here. One is that these parties will disagree on many policies, making them a less potent force than their numbers in the next parliament may threaten. The more important message, though, is that the typical recourse of Europe's mainstream parties -- to steal from the policies of the far right in an attempt to prevent more voters from leaking away to them -- might give them substantial influence anyhow.

A future molded by these populist parties would create an EU that is increasingly atomized, protectionist, xenophobic, militarily weak, ambivalent about Europe's most important economic project (the euro) and strategic alliance (with the U.S.), and easily manipulated by powers such as Russia and China. What Europe's actual leaders need to keep in focus is that even the people who vote for populist parties don't necessarily want such a future: They're protesting against the failure of the mainstream parties -- and of the EU -- to manage the effects of globalization and the financial crisis. They feel unrepresented, and the populists are perceived to be listening and offering simple solutions.

It is their own failures that Europe's governments and institutions must address in response to this week's election. That will sometimes require less Europe, and sometimes more.

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