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Nationalists emboldened by EU crisis, debt pact

By Karl Ritter

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 4:35 a.m. MDT

FILE This Wednesday July 15, 2009 file photo shows British European deputy Nigel Farage as he speaks during a session at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France. This week's debt deal for Europe doubles down on the concept of European integration, and could provide further ammunition for the nationalist movements that have been gaining in popularity partly as a reaction to the idea of a single Europe. In Britain lawmakers this week launched an unsuccessful motion to hold a referendum on leaving the 27-member union. Dozens of Conservative MPs rebelled against Prime Minister David Cameron's orders and voted for the motion, which was rejected in a 483-111 vote. Nigel Farage, leader of the euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party, claimed that some Conservatives were thinking about defecting to his party, which has no seats in the House of Commons and won just 3 percent of votes in the 2010 election.

Lionel Cironneau, Associated Press

STOCKHOLM — This week's debt deal for Europe doubles down on the concept of European integration, and could provide further ammunition for the nationalist movements that have been gaining in popularity partly as a reaction to the idea of a single Europe.

In order to back the investment in the euro, leaders in the eurozone have advocated a deepening integration of economic policies, transferring power from the national governments to the European level.

But "euroskeptics" have made advances in arguing that Europe's elites are turning the bloc into a federal superstate against the wishes of their citizens. This week's developments threaten to boost their arguments.

"This is a big step, only it's in the wrong direction," Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders said.

The eurozone rescue plan presents a dilemma for European leaders when it comes to resisting such attacks.

Failure risks an implosion of the euro, a giant setback for the European project of forging an ever closer union. But success means deepening integration of economic policies in the eurozone core, transferring power from the national governments to the European level.

That would provide further ammunition to the nationalist groups who say Europe's elites are turning the bloc into a federal superstate against the wishes of their citizens.

"If there's anything positive in this it's that it sets the stage for a new debate on the EU that has been missing in the past 10 years," said Jimmie Akesson said, the leader of the far-right and anti-EU Sweden Democrats.

That debate is already taking center stage in Britain, never the most enthusiastic EU member, where lawmakers this week launched an unsuccessful motion to hold a referendum on leaving the 27-member union. Dozens of Conservative MPs rebelled against Prime Minister David Cameron's orders and voted for the motion, which was rejected in a 483-111 vote.

Nigel Farage, leader of the euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party, claimed that some Conservatives were thinking about defecting to his party, which has no seats in the House of Commons and won just 3 percent of votes in the 2010 election.

"I'm not going to tell you they are on the verge of coming across. All I can tell you is that it's being discussed. I do know people in the Conservative Party — and I've spoken to some this morning — who are deeply depressed at the moment," The Evening Standard quoted Farage as saying Thursday.

A poll published Monday by The Guardian newspaper found that 70 percent of respondents wanted a referendum on UK membership in the EU; 49 percent said they would vote to withdraw, 40 percent said they would vote to stay in and the rest were undecided.

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults by telephone on Oct. 21-23. No margin of error was given.

Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London, said the emboldening of euroskeptics in Britain could have relevance for other countries as well.

"Ongoing crises could turn people against the EU. But closer integration is going to be unpopular, too," he said.

Poland and the Czech Republic have postponed plans to join the euro. Voters in Denmark and Sweden have previously rejected the euro and the debt crisis has killed any chances of their pro-euro governments revisiting the issue anytime soon.

Tilford said it's not impossible that attitudes will turn euroskeptic also in southern Europe if Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy get stuck in a cycle of stagnation, rising debt, high unemployment and pressure to hand over economic policymaking.

"That could prove poisonous in terms of domestic politics and that would feed into the hands of anti-EU forces," he said.

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