A new wave of the Euroscepticism
A new wave of Euroscepticism started in connection with the global economic crisis in 2008 when for the next several years Europe had been living in social and economic shocks which piled up on the crisis phenomena in the political system. The global economic crisis shocked the very basis of the EU’s socio-economic development model and became the foundations for the new scepticism about the benefits of the EU’s membership. Even in the format of the European Single Market (the ESM),[i] the EU’s Member States have failed to overcome the lag behind the chief competitors (the USA and Japan) so far in terms of economic development and its quality as well as science, machinery, and defense. The plans of becoming the most competitive region in the world and “a knowledge-based society that eradicated poverty”, by 2010, turned out to be unfulfilled and even unthinkable. Certainly, when the economy is unstable, the public opinion is critical and this leads to the growth of critical-sceptic tendencies followed by the attempts to review what used to be viewed up to that time positively and/or advanced.[ii]
The Euroscepticism’s growth was primarily reflected in the harsh criticism on the EU’s economic policy and its supra-governmental bodies. Focusing on the “Euro-bureaucrats”, the Eurosceptics are rightly claim against them several practices: making insufficiently considered decisions, belated and unsatisfactory drafting of the legislative acts and other documents, lacking sense of moderation in the regulatory decisions and their bureaucratic nature, non-transparency, the secrecy of the EU bodies’ activity, their lack of proper feedback with the civil society, the drawbacks of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty hindering the decision-making by the EU’s top institutions. For instance, it is quite true that decision-making process within the EU is not transparent even to members of the European Parliament and much less to the public.[iii] However, for the Eurocrats in Brussels and supra-nationalists, there is a “democratic” explanation for such democratic deficit: making decisions more transparent will further complicate already very complicated process of decision-making especially in the European Council and the European Commission. In addition, the EU’s position in the international arena also does not bode well as it steadily loses both its economic positions and political influence.
What is democratic deficit? It is perceived lack of proper democratic accountability in an intergovernmental organization that is generally held to be democratic such as the EU. As a matter of fact, about the reality of democratic deficit within the governing and institutional scope of the EU are clearly writing many academic researchers and scholars. For instance, according to Etzioni-Halevy, “European governing institutions are in constant flux and suffer from excessive complexity, fuzziness, and ambiguity of procedures”[iv] which are very characterized by special Euro-jargon and the use of numerous technical terms and several hundred acronyms. In general, such democratic deficit is off-putting for the EU’s citizens and makes it difficult for them to understand what is really going on in those EU’s bodies (especially in the European Council and Commission), and what they need to actually do in order to link up with them. As a result, this problem is clearly expressed in the concept of Euroscepticism.
Undoubtedly, the EU’s governing institutions are having important functions, but the question is: how do they measure up as representative institutions of the EU’s citizens? That is, in fact, the question: how democratically accountable are they? It is not any hidden truth that since its start in 1992, the EU is tremendously suffering from what is referred to as a democratic deficit which refers to a real or perceived gap between the EU’s lofty aspirations and what the Eurosceptics say is the mundane reality. This concern stems from the very fact that while some of the EU’s governing bodies, as the Parliament, for instance, have inbuilt provisions for regularized interactions with the citizens (i.e., electoral body), there are major problems in how these arrangements work in terms of their representatives in many particular cases due to the factors which are beyond the efficient control of anyone. The Eurosceptics are right to claim that in the EU (like in the NATO as well, for instance), do not exist a real provision for any significant public interaction with (super)power institutions or/and with senior policymakers.[v]
All this encourages the growth of the anti-European resentment as according to the opinion by many citizens, the EU is not what it used to be and does not provide adequate protection for its subjects. For instance, the research data at Eurobarometer in November 2012 suggest that the EU’s image as a governing structure since 2007 till the poll date fell by 21%; if at that date half of the respondents supported the integration, this number is not higher than 31%. The other 28% took a sharply negative approach with approximately 60% of the citizens generally expressed their distrust for the EU as a functionalbe and beneficiary institution. The opinion poll in the biggest EU’s countries (April 2015) showed that ever more people considered that separately their nations could have dealt with the economic challenges much better in comparison to the EU. More precisely, the EU was at that time distrusted by 42% in Poland, 53% in Italy, 57% in France, 69% in Germany and the UK, and 72% in Spain.
It is remarkable that besides the growth of the Euroscepticism, the traditional political parties in many European countries downplay their European enthusiasm being the Member States or not. The ideological orientation of big political parties in seven European countries (the UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland), showed a shift from the pro-European positions towards forms of the Euroscepticism. There was quite a distinctive ideological division at separate parties’ level: the center-left and liberal parties are more supportive of the pro-European positions than the center-right parties. The most consistent proponents of the Euroscepticism turned out to be the British Conservative Party, the Italian political alliance “The Freedom People” and the Bavarian Christian-Social Union. These parties do not oppose their countries’ membership in the EU, but their adherence to the “soft” Euroscepticism’s ideas suggests that the latter can be considered a significant aspect of the modern conservative ideology in a number of the European countries. However, big center-right parties do not usually declare their adherence to the principles of the Euroscepticism in their documents. The rightist and ultra-rightist political actors, on the contrary, openly oppose their countries’ EU membership and the further development of the European integration within the EU. Such growing tendency suggests that today being excessively pro-European is out of fashion and can be even politically unprofitable. This was proven during the 2013 EU budget discussions when many Member States opposed the increase of all-European treasury out of concern that such funds redistribution in the EU’s favor would eventually turn into the voter loss for their leaders both at the national and the EU’s elections.
Currently there are not too many big anti-integration parties at the political arena, however, the small ones which oftentimes do not have representatives at the national Parliaments can have their word not only through the mass media but also through the all-European platforms, as one instance is the European Parliament. A remarkable example to this can be the UK’s Independence Party (the UKIP) which won 14 places in this EU’s institution in 2009 – more than the Liberal Democrats and as much as the Labor Party. Two super-national Eurosceptic alliances first joined the European Parliament formed in 2009, which proved the abovementioned tendency. The most radical of these alliances was the group Europe for Freedom and Democracy consisting of 34 MPs from 9 countries: the UK, Italy, France, Greece, Denmark, Lithuania, Netherlands, Slovakia, and Finland. The core of the party was made up of the MPs from the UKIP and the Italian Northern League. Despite the fact that the alliance members, except the British, did not support their countries’ withdrawal (exit) from the EU, it was Euroscepticism that became the uniting ideology for this fraction. In general, its representatives demanded to change the EU’s configuration, expand the rights of big regions, review the immigration policy towards hardening up to the compulsory deportation of the immigrants out of the EU. The second Eurosceptic alliance, the European Conservatives and Reformists fraction (54 MPs) opposes the EU’s federalization, but leaves the right for the EU’s existence in its current form and structure yet criticizes its policy. This alliance was uniting 15 representatives from the Polish parties (Right and Justice – 11 MPs, Poland Above All – 4 MPs), 9 MPs from the Czech Civil Democratic Party, and 1 MP from the Belgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Dutch parties each. Yet the core of the fraction consisted of the British conservatives (26 mandates), earlier declaring the withdrawal from the center-right European People’s Party.
The last circumstance is quite demonstrative about the evolution in one of the leading conservative parties in Europe. In the 1990s, it was on the brink of rift on the issue of deepening the European integration but the well-organized Eurosceptics succeeded in winning the future of the Conservative Party. From that point, the Tories have consistently opposed the strengthening of supra-governmental EU’s structures that could limit the sovereignty and free decision-making at the national level. During the election campaign for the European Parliament in 2004, the Conservatives defended the idea that Britain is part of Europe, yet not controlled from Europe. During the British parliamentary elections in 2010, the Tories confirmed their moderate skepticism position. The party stood up for the EU’s decentralization, more flexible EU’s policy, it declared the non-participation in the key integration directions, particularly concerning the Economic and Currency Union, reform of the basic treaty, expanding the EU’s terms of reference in legislature, social, domestic, and foreign affairs as well as in regard with the security issues.[vi] At the rime, the British Conservatives mainly focused on the defense of the national interests in their election manifesto. Such a position ensured the winning of the elections and the return to power within a coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party.
Later on, the Eurozone crisis and the worsening relations between the UK and its EU’s partners caused by the different views on its further development lead to the conspicuous growth of the Eurosceptic opinions in the country which finally ended with the Brexit. Thus, the opinion poll by The Daily Mail in December 2011, as one example, suggested that 62% of the respondents supported the PMs tough stance to Brussels, while approximately 50% supported the UK’s Euroexit (known as Brexit). In spring 2013, the number of Euroexit supporters exceeded half of the respondents. At the same time, one of the leading popular responses was the willingness to stay within a more liberal institution, using the benefits of the free trade zone; in other words, to transform back the EU into a kind of the EFTA as it was from 1957 to 1967 (the European Economic Community – the EEC).[vii] As a matter of fact, at the time, 62% respondents replied that their country should not help the Eurozone countries in their debt settlement.[viii]
So, the Euroscepticism in the EU’s countries grew in the crisis background, which was reflected both in the opinion polls and the election results at different levels.[ix] Yet the soft Euroscepticism was prevailing within the Eurosceptics, which first and foremost suggests the dissatisfaction with the Brussels bureaucracy (Eurocrats) and the need for reforms in the EU rather than the principal rejection of the authentic integration project. Both the 2015 and 2019 European Parliamentary elections proved this tendency towards the Eurosceptics’ influential growth on the political scene. However, their distinctive feature is that their vast majority represents the rightist parties: from the center-right to ultra-right. The Eurosceptics still lack unity due to different criticism motives and platforms against the EU. Two Eurosceptic fractions remained in the newly summoned European Parliament in 2015. The third was expected, based on the French National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, but this expectation had failed and the respective MPs were listed as independent. Nevertheless, the growth of the Euroscepticism and the increasing support for the rightist political organizations in many EU’s countries means a serious turn in the conscience of many Europeans who are rejecting the Brussels’ political line, including the reluctance to defend the traditional European values of the Christian religion, family, sovereignty, democracy, and motherland.
The EU as a political-economic system, organization and even form of confederal state is in existence since 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty was signed on February 7. Before the EU there were three smaller communities on which foundations of present-day EU are formed called the European Coal and Steel Community (est. 1952), the European Economic Community (est. 1957), and the European Community (est. 1967). In other words, a European-wide communities existed since soon after WWII was over but, however, even after more than fifty years of the start of the realization of the (Western) idea and concept of the European integration, there were and there are quite many Europeans who are not sincerely convinced that such way of the unification of the Old Continent is a good and beneficiary idea for their nationalities.[x] The term Euroscepticism is generally used to present and understand different forms of criticism of the EU, but as well as and opposition to continued European integration within the framework of the EU including and the so-called Eastward enlargement policy and process. Usually, these two forms are coming together being colored economically and politically. Nevertheless, one of the focal and longest complains skepticism is that such kind of European integration is weakening the nation-state and consequently undermines national identity and unity. Another charge of the Eurosceptics is that the EU is not fully democratic organization, even being undemocratic, a top-down one that plays no enough attention to the actual problems, needs, and aspirations of ordinary people and that the EU’s institutions in Brussels are very bureaucratized as dominated by unelected, overpaid civil servants, in fact, politicians who are just changing chairs from one office to another one. The third concern of the Eurosceptics is about lack of real transparency in regard to the decision-making procedure in top EU’s institutions as the European Council and the European Commission. In other words, transparency is replaced by the lobbying policy.
In essence, the EU is a post-sovereign framework for the building of the supra-state with the European instead of historical-traditional national identity. As a consequence, during the last several decades political and other forms of power steadily moved away from sovereign nation-states as members of the organization to supranational bureaucratic decision-making bodies of the centralized and not controlled authorities in Brussels and elsewhere (Strasbourg, Luxemburg or Frankfurt am Main). As a result, the EU established a new form of undemocratic and non-transparent governance at an intermediate level (regional) between the global and the nation-state.
From one point of view, what is creating the EU to be unique case among all existing regional integration organizations is a fact that the EU has developed mature governing institutions and administrative bodies which make it be so far the most advanced project of regional integration all over the world. As a matter of fact, the existing stage of the EU’s development and integration is a result of a complex process since 1952 when it was developed a multifaced structure with political, economic, security and cultural goals, arrived at via a series of treaties for the sake to transform Member States into the key players in international relations. However, majority of the Eurosceptics share the same opinion that the TEU’s integration how it is outlined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty is simply mistake[xi] which is leading their nation-states into catastrophe. They also oppose the theory of The End of History[xii] which posits that the USA and West Europe reached the end of history by allegedly successfully democratizing, guaranteeing human rights, achieving stability, and implementing economic liberalization. Instead of such approach, the Eurosceptics are in viewpoint that the EU is, in fact, an organization which is promulgating the so-called “enforcement terror” – economic, political, administrative, bureaucratic, and legislative terrorism carried out by the governmental bodies or government-back agencies against its own citizens.
Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
[i] On the ESM see in [Grin G., The Battle of the Single European Market: Achievements and Economic Thought, 1985−2016, London−New York: Routledge, 2016].
[ii] The EU until the 2008 economic crisis was widely seen as a successful project in terms of how to develop regional cooperation among previously hostile regional countries. The signing of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which created the ESM, especially encouraged widespread interest in Europe’s regional cooperation with a strong belief it will bring soon fundamental benefits for the (East European) applicant and candidate states. The ESM focused attention on the success of the EU’s decades-long economic cooperation and consequent long-term regional economic growth and expected prosperity. However, as a reaction to the ESM’s project, for many other regions across the globe the EU’s economic and developmental success up to the 2008 economic crisis stimulated a wider and extra European “urge to merge”. It occurred because the ESM created and deepened competitive pressure and economic game for other regions which now they had to compete with the EU for market share for exports. As a result, national and regional economies (for instance, the NAFTA) of the globe became forced to engage themselves into serious economic competition with the EU especially with its Western Member States (former the West European Union). Especially North America and Asia-Pacific became increasingly concerned that facilitation of easier market access for the Member States within the EU itself would lead to trade diversion at the expense of their exports [Haynes J., Hough P., Malik Sh., Pettiford L., World Politics, New York: Routledge, 2013, 280]. Subsequently, the linked emergence of the so-called “Fortress Europe” or the ESM provided a new stumulant to encourage dynamic regional cooperation in regions outside the EU [Cristiansen Th., “European and Regional Integration”, Baylis J., Smith S. (eds.), The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, 495−518].
[iii] Magstadt M. Th., Contemporary European Politics: A Comparative Perspective, Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education, 2007, 328.
[iv] Etzioni-Halevy, E., “Linkage Deficits in Transnational Politics”, International Political Science Review, 23/2, 2002, 203−222, 205.
[v] Hill C., Smith M. (eds.), International Relations and the EU, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
[vi] On the politics and policies of the EU, see in [Bache I., Bulmer S., George S., Parker O., Politics in the European Union, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015; Olsen J., McCormck J., The European Union: Politics and Policies, New York: Routlegde, 2018].
[vii] The EEC is one of the communities established in the process of European integration after WWII. Encouraged by the economic and political success of the European Coal and Steel Community (est. 1951), the Six Member States (Benelux, West Germany, France, and Italy) signed the 1957 Rome Treaty which established the EEC, which from 1967 was transformed into the European Community (the EC). See more in [Dinan D., Ever Closer Union: An Introduction to European Integration, Lynne Rienner, 2010; Dinan D., Origins and Evolution of the European Union, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014].
[viii] The single currency Euro was originally adopted in 1999. There has been a significant risk attached to the introduction of a single currency for old Member States coming from West Europe for the reason of very different economies, labor markets, and social and fiscal policy traditions compared with those countries coming from South and East Europe. On the Eurozone’s crises and perspectives, see in [Overtveld Van J., The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union, Chicago: An Agate Imprint, 2011; Sandbu M., Europe’s Orphan: The Future of the Euro and the Politics of Debt, Priinceton: Princeton University Press, 2015].
[ix] On the crisis in European Union, see in [Castells M., et al. (eds.), Europe’s Crises, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2018].
[x] Haynes J., Hough P., Malik Sh., Pettiford L., World Politics, New York: Routledge, 2013, 297.
[xi] Guzzini S. (ed.), The Return of Geopolitics in Europe? Social Mechanisms and Foreign Policy Identity Crises, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 112.
[xii] The original author and proponent of this theory is the US’ social analyst and political commentator, Francis Fukuyama (born 1952). He was born in Chicago, USA as the son of a Protestant preacher. Fukuyama, a Republican, was a member of the Policy Planning Staff of the US’ State Department before he became a consultant for the Rand Corporation. He became prominent as a result of his article “The End of History?” published in 1989, which he later developed into the book The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992. He claimed that the history of ideas basically ended with the recognition of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. However, in the book After the Neocons, published in 2006, F. Fukuyama developed a critique of the US’ foreign policy after 9/11. The theory of “The End of History” was later wrapped into the cloths of Riga Axioms – belief that the Soviet policy and the existence of the USSR was driven by ideology rather than by power [Mansbach W. R., Taylor L. K., Introduction to Global Politics, New York: Routledge, 2012, 583].