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
I have just spent a few days traveling across Veneto, Italy’s industrial heartland in the north east of the peninsula. One of the tasks I had set myself for this trip was to understand whether Italy’s economic crisis is fuelling euroscepticism.
Italy has traditionally been among the continent’s most europhilic countries. To the astonishment of outside observers – particularly those from the Anglo-Saxon world – Italians have seemed relatively at ease with the idea of handing more and more powers over to Brussels.
One of the reasons behind this attitude is their deep lack of trust in their own political class. The euro is seen as a bridge to modernity and progress, rather than a drag on national sovereignty.
After the wave of austerity which has recently hit Italy, and which Brussels was at least partially responsible for, I expected this attitude to have become somewhat less positive. Veneto was an excellent testing ground for its resilience. This wealthy region is governed by Luca Zaia, from the Northern League, the most eurosceptic among Italy’s mainstream parties. Veneto has a strong export-oriented manufacturing sector, which can no longer rely on competitive devaluations as it did in the 1980s and 1990s, before Italy entered the euro.
This point was made to me by Roberto Brazzale, a food entrepreneur from the province of the city of Vicenza, who has off-shored much of his production of parmesan cheese and mozzarella to the Czech Republic. “We must exit the euro,” Mr Brazzale said. “And do it before our industrial base is completely wiped out”. Read more