Event Summary: ‘The Rise of ‘Outsider’ Parties: Assessing the European Elections’

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This is a summary of an event with Douglas Murray, Associate Director of The Henry Jackson Society, James Bloodworth, Editor of Left Foot Forward, Christopher Howarth, Senior Analyst at Open Europe, and Rupert Sutton, Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society on the 29th April 2014; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of the Henry Jackson Society or its staff.

To view a full transcript of this event, click here.

On 14 May 2014, Michael McCann MP and the Henry Jackson Society hosted an event discussing the rise of ‘outsider’ parties in the European Union, and their potential impact on European and domestic politics. Speakers included Douglas Murray, Associate Director of The Henry Jackson Society, James Bloodworth, Editor of Left Foot Forward, Christopher Howarth, Senior Analyst at Open Europe, and Rupert Sutton, Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society.

The panel debate was held on the occasion of the launch of the latest HJS report: The Rise of ‘Outsider’ Parties in the 2014 EU Elections, which examines so-called ‘outsider’ parties belonging to the furthest-left GUE-NGL bloc, furthest-right EFD bloc and the non-aligned NI bloc. The report profiles 25 of these parties, detailing their history, representation, political positions on key issues such as corruption, austerity measures, EU integration and NATO membership, and any associated controversies.

In his opening remarks Rupert Sutton presented the methodology used, and detailed some of the key findings of the report. These include:

  • High (and growing) levels of domestic representation for ‘outsiders’, with 23 parties currently represented in their national parliaments. UKIP is the only ‘outsider’ party to have contested national elections and not won any seats;
  • High levels of Euroscepticism or anti-NATO views were most apparent, with 16 parties holding anti-EU views and 11 opposed to NATO;
  • Anti-corruption tickets (nine parties) and anti-austerity rhetoric (eight parties) were also common themes. Despite this, eight parties were involved in corruption-related controversies;
  • Religious-hatred (nine parties) or racism-related controversies (11 parties) were common, while nine parties were discovered to have been linked to far-right or neo-Nazi practices.

James Bloodworth discussed the impact of the UK’s ‘outsider’ party – UKIP. He highlighted that:

  • Economic and social insecurity enhances the position of UKIP and attracts its voters, and this process is a reaction to the broader phenomenon of globalisation;
  • With ideological politics becoming lost to a more ‘managerial’ politics, ‘outsider’ parties such as UKIP can also increasingly claim to be the only groups able to affect real change;
  • The rise of UKIP’s middle-class conservative support can be explained through fear of the pace of change (especially cultural and economic change), and increasing support for an alternative to mainstream policies;
  • The long term repercussions of the growing influence of ‘outsider’ parties will mean moving the mainstream from centre to the right, with the EU-referendum promise by David Cameron a clear example.

Christopher Howarth suggested that the two key blocs at the European Parliament would negate the impact of ‘outsider’ parties and that this demonstrated a democratic deficit. He stated that:

  • While the relative power of the Parliament has risen in recent decades, this has not translated into more popular support, and turnout remains low;
  • The domination of the large Socialist and Christian-Democrat EPP bloc means over 70% of issues are decided by consensus, and this will not change even if many ‘outsider’ parties are elected;
  • Instead, the election of ‘outsider’ parties is likely to have a greater effect at domestic level, attracting voters from more mainstream parties, than at the European Parliament;
  • As such, UKIP will have to decide whether to concentrate on maintaining their funding in Brussels, or on gaining a seat in the 2015 General Election.

Douglas Murray emphasised on the difficulty of categorising most of the parties discussed, and stressed how the differences existing between the many ‘outsider’ parties will damage their ability to ‘wreck’ the Parliament:

  • Common approaches to policies such as austerity measures, immigration and security and policing exist from the far-left to the far-right groups, blurring the line between parties on the political spectrum and resulting in a confused European Parliament in 2014;
  • The strong rise of anti-political-establishment parties in Greece and Italy is another phenomenon which needs further examination, and which highlights an increasing dissatisfaction with the political elite;
  • It is unlikely that UKIP will align with the Front National in France or Geert Wilder’s Party in the Netherlands, due to fears of losing domestic votes. However, we must be aware of the issues posed by a potential wrecking alliance, even if it is likely they will find it very difficult to work together successfully.

The panel concluded that while at the European Parliament matters will most likely continue as usual due to the domination of the two main groupings domination, on the domestic scene ‘outsider’ parties are set to play an ever increasing role. This will be seen in them damaging the traditional voting base of mainstream parties, which are becoming seen as unresponsive to people’s demands, but also by setting a new agenda of social, economic and defence policies which will inevitably have to be faced by more mainstream parties sooner or later.

HJS



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