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An Election which has brought the Political Earthquake in Europe

On Thursday 22nd May, I looked for my British Passport with overenthusiasm to cast my vote in the European parliamentary election. I skipped my breakfast on that cold rainy morning to reach the polling station before going to my office. I casted my vote in a nearest polling station where like the rest of the country’s polling stations there were no banners, no supporters, no party tents, no polling agents, no security guards and no permanent ink for thumbs. I casted my vote for a main stream political party and then started waiting for the results.

The European Parliament is a key institution of European Union (EU) that represents the citizens of the EU.  Elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serve five-year terms, and have been directly elected since 1979. But this year elections were very significant one, due to increase in the European Parliament powers in the decision-making after the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon of 2009. It is also the first time that the European elections result will have to be taken into account in the appointment process of the European Commission’s President. This year elections held between May 22 and May 25, 2014, in 28 member states of EU for 751 seats.

While few of the Pakistani T.V channels were busy celebrating the victory of few expatriate Pakistanis’ in the elections, most of the voters for main stream parties like myself were in a state of shock due to the results. Although completely neglected by Pakistani media outlets, the current EP elections have rung the alarm bells in the whole EU. The reason of this alarming situation is the rise of the ‘right radical parties’ in the European parliament. These right wing parties are often described by the common public as ‘racist’, ‘fascist’ , ‘anti-sematic’ and Euroskeptic. But the European politics was jolted as these extreme right parties triumphed in the European parliament elections.

Manuel Valls the Prime Minister of France has rightly said that European voters have delivered “an earthquake”. Likewise, both the Government and opposition parties in UK are equally concerned about this public uprising against EU.  Our Prime Minister Mr Cameron has called other EU leaders to stress the need for reform and to urge them to "heed the views expressed at the ballot box" and in his views "European Parliament in ‘Brussels has got too big, too bossy, too interfering’. British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s ability to lead his party has also been challenged as 300 activists of his party have signed an online petition advising Mr Clegg to resign although senior party figures, has said there is no leadership issue.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson wrote in his Daily Telegraph column: “There is a kind of peasants’ revolt going on, a jacquerie. From Dublin to Lublin, from Portugal to Pomerania, the pitchfork-wielding populists are converging on the Breydel building in Brussels – drunk on local hooch and chanting nationalist slogans and preparing to give the federalist machinery a good old kicking with their authentically folkloric clogs’’.

This is the first time that anti- EU parties have risen in the European Parliament. In the UK, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) had 27.5% of the vote, the main opposition Labour Party 25% and the ruling Conservative party 24%. UKIP has emerged as the winner of the British EP elections, with more than a quarter of the British votes. UKIP advocates UK withdrawal from the EU. UKIP has repeatedly announced that it ‘would scrap the majority of foreign aid given the colossal waste involved’ and accused ‘Westminster [of having] forced cuts on the British public whilst sending more hard-earned taxes abroad’. Although UKIP has clearly developed a tougher line on immigration issues over the years, it does not share the harsh anti-Islamic rhetoric with many other right radical parties. The rise of the UKIP, which campaigned on an anti-immigrant, anti-EU platform has sent shockwaves through the political system to put pressure on mainstream parties to toughen their stances on immigration.

In France, the anti-EU, extreme nationalists, Front National party led by Marine Le Pen got one in four votes, the best showing by any of the country’s parties. The Front National won the election in France with a projected 25% of the vote, while the ruling socialist’s party of President François Hollande warped to 14%. The Socialists were holding emergency meetings to discuss the results. The Front National proclaiming that “politics of the French, for the French, with the French’’ has declared that election results were ‘humiliation’ for French President Hollande.

In Spain, Podemos, a mass-movement that grew out of street demonstrations against politicians and banks, won five seats. In Poland, peripheral anti-EU politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke was elected to the parliament after declaring that it corrupts politicians and should be turned into a brothel. People in Greece, voted first place and six seats to the anti-government Syriza party that campaigned against fiscal austerity policies. New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras came second but the Nationalist Golden Dawn party, whose leader and five other lawmakers are in prison pending trial on charges of running a criminal organisation, jumped to third place, with 9.4 percent of the votes and three seats.

There are many factors contributing to the growth of the radical right parties in Europe. First and primary reason is the legislative power in the hands of European Parliament in Brussels. These parties propagate that the EU has become a overpoweringly controlling political institution alienating voters and imposing harsh austerity programs without a popular mandate.

Secondly, the supporters of these parties believe that national interests have been ignored to benefit the financial elite identified as responsible for the harsh policies that have destabilised common man’s interest and devastated local industries. Economic instability can trigger feelings of insecurity of the individual and real instability of parts of society. This can create receptivity for radical discourse. There is however no proof of an automatic connection between economic condition and the dynamics of racism and chauvinism. In some countries it was witnessed that immigrants were made the scapegoat for the bad economic situation the population is suffering.

Thirdly, ‘the Right’ condemns immigration policies, which permit the large-scale arrival of cheap workers at a time of depression level unemployment. The crisis of capitalism combined with the large force of cheap immigrant labour forms the material basis for right-wing appeals to workers, especially those in precarious jobs or unemployed. Immigrants are an easy and specific scapegoat, serving to materialise fears and explain insecurity.

It has now become so important that National politicians across EU should address the feelings of insecurity of parts of society through integrative actions to avoid losing these citizens, who do not feel represented by society, to extremism. Where populists give an alternative to the sense of belonging to mainstream society, it is the responsibility of mainstream political parties to offer such a sense within an inclusive society. This implies giving identity, actively combating exclusion and vulnerability.

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