European Parliament

Tony Barber

Geert Wilders (Michel Porro/Getty Images)

Beneath his populist rhetoric neither Geert Wilders, nor most supporters of his far-right Freedom Party, nor the vast majority of Dutch voters seriously entertain the notion that the Netherlands will leave the European Union. But in election campaigns it is the rhetoric that counts.

The election in question is the May 22-25 vote, in the Netherlands and the European Union’s other 27 member-states, for the European Parliament. Like other anti-EU, anti-euro, anti-establishment parties in countries such as France and the UK, the Dutch Freedom Party is riding the tide of popular disenchantment with mainstream politics and EU institutions.

Wilders is after the protest vote, and he will get it – just like Marine Le Pen’s National Front and the UK Independence Party of Nigel Farage. All three movements have an excellent chance of topping the polls or at least upsetting the political apple cart in their respective countries. Read more

Tony Barber

Nigel Farage at the European parliament (Getty)

In the crystal balls of the European Union’s political and bureaucratic establishments looms a mortifying vision: voters in next year’s European parliament elections punish mainstream parties and vote en masse for their populist, radical right and anti-EU nemeses.

The humiliation of such a result would be compounded if, as has happened in every ballot for the EU assembly since direct elections began 34 years ago, turnout were to sink to a record low. Between 1979 and 2009 turnout fell from 62 to 43 per cent, a trend cited by the EU’s critics to reinforce the argument that the bloc’s shortcomings are not just economic but democratic in nature.

Eurosceptic, anti-establishment and ultra-right parties certainly have their tails up at the moment. To varying degrees, voters in many of the EU’s 27 countries are fed up with economic recession, mass unemployment, the erosion of the welfare state, political corruption and perceived high levels of immigration. A Gallup poll conducted last month in six member-states – Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK – showed that absolute or relative majorities in every country agreed that the EU was “going in the wrong direction”.  Read more

Alan Beattie

A new lease of life in an old idea? The EU and the US are talking about some kind of bilateral trade agreement – as, to be fair, they have been for about the past 20 years. This time, so the optimistic argument goes, it is helped along by the fact that almost no-one can be bothered to pretend that the Doha round is alive any more, thus neutralising the criticism that the two biggest trading powers are stitching up deals between themselves and undermining the multilateral system.

The problem with the deal, though, as USTR Ron Kirk recently hinted, is that the Europeans want to go for a comprehensive deal covering as many sectors as possible. US business groups privately have similar worries about the overoptimistic views of their European counterparts. Read more