Europe at the Polls: The Continent in 2014
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you might have missed Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s — and you can’t afford to miss her 21st-century reincarnations. Especially when they’re threatening to disrupt the entire continent as we know it.
By Sanjena Sathian
It’s an election year in major nations across Europe. Up for discussion? Plenty, including a new kind of headline-making European right. OZY sat down for a Q&A with Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Business for Britain, founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and a veritable British Grover Norquist . As one of Britain’s top lobbyists and conservative voices, Elliot offered OZY a primer on what’s happening in the U.K. and EU — and what to expect from the 2014 election cycle. In sum: You know you need to watch the European right, but what you might not know is that the right has many faces (some more moderate than others). What do they all have in common? An increasingly mainstream skepticism about the very idea of their continent as one coherent body.
A TURNING POINT FOR EUROPE?
OZY: Let’s start with the big picture: What are you seeing across Europe right now — and why should people around the world care?
MATTHEW ELLIOTT: The European Parliament election in May is coming up, and it looks to be a major time for change across the continent. What people should be looking for is what’s going to happen to the two big power blocs, the European People’s Party, the center-right Christian democrat blocs, and the Party of European Socialists, the center-left socialist bloc. Whichever one of those gets the most members this May will have quite a lot of power: They will get to nominate the new European Commission president. And I would say that if the Party of European Socialists does well in the races, it will be terribly bad for the European economy. Already the EU is guilty of bringing in far too many regulations on business, and if it brings in even more regulations, the whole continent will be set back even further in the whole global race.
OZY: So who should the world be on the watch for in this election cycle and beyond?
ME: This is truly the first time that three very big, important nations in the EU — the U.K., France and Germany — have legitimately started building a very strong anti-Euro force. That’s a bit unprecedented. And if everyone in the States assumed Europe was centralizing, well. They’re going to see something very different … not the United States of Europe. There are some new and old players who all look set to top their respective polls.
- There’s Nigel Farage, who leads the U.K. Independence Party — one of two British center-right parties.
- There’s Marine Le Pen, in France, whose Front Nationel Party looks to clearly top the polls.
- There’s the new German anti-Euro Party (led by Bernd Lucke) — and they did very well in their parliamentary elections.
OZY: Those are the standard players. Who don’t we know yet, in the U.K. and EU?
- Patrick O’Flynn. Well liked, good on broadcast and has a good instinct for connecting with “Middle England.” With Farage having health issues at the moment, many people are tipping O’Flynn as a future UKIP leader. He’s certainly one to watch.
- Daniel Hannan. A leading member of the European Parliament, [he] is a man on the up. He’s one of the best orators in the Party, he writes well, he’s got a huge social media following and — most importantly — he’s been proved right on everything he’s said about the EU.
- Rachel Reeves. She has used her position as Labour spokesperson on Work and Pensions to launch some significant attacks on the government for welfare. Untainted by the previous Labour administration, she’s well positioned to be Labour’s first female leader and prime minister.
Watch out for Britain’s Rand Paul(s)
OZY: Tell us about British sentiment toward the EU.
ME: Well, you’re going to see these Euroskeptics top the polls, getting more support across the country than any of the other European parties. And this will be a real shock and a wake-up call. The country is very dissatisfied with our membership in the European Union — which is forcing all of the major parties to try to take into account that anti-European feeling. You’ll see the Conservative Party become much more Euroskeptic, but you’ll also see it from the Labor Party and the whole of British politics. The idea that the EU is completely infallible is no longer the case — you’ll see it shaken up. The question of our relationship with the EU comes down to how we see our place in the world. We were the sick man of Europe in the beginning — back when the EU accounted for roughly half the world’s GDP. But now? Many people are asking, where does Britain want to be in 2014? People are saying we need to go back to where we were before, independent of the EU — away from the low-growth Eurozone.
OZY: What’s the biggest surprise in British politics right now?
ME: While nobody expects the UKIP to come first in next year’s general election, in May 2015, they’re going to do far, far better than the 3 percent they hauled last election. And the Party is starting to take votes from the conservative party, fracturing the British right — a bit like what happened with Bush and Ross Perot. You’ve got this populist, right-wing force on the rise in the country. It’s changing things up a bit because Nigel Farage — head of the UKIP — had his party polling in third place in the U.K. polls for the past 18 months to two years now. But in this year’s European elections, his party is actually polling ahead of the conservative right party — they very well could come top. Which has huge implications for the general election next year in 2015.
OZY: So you’re really seeing a number of new kinds of political mavericks on the scene in the U.K. — even new political parties worth taking seriously?
ME: Well, it’s a bit like the American Tea Party. In the States, too, the right is quite fractious and finding it difficult to coalesce with election-winning candidates. Many people want more moderate Republicans, it seems, but others are pushing in the much more conservative direction. And that’s actually a direct parallel within the U.K. right now: We have one conservative party, but with the Independent Party, the center-right is fractured — much like how it is in the U.S. I believe we won’t have another conservative government in the U.K. until we reunite — and until we have a candidate who can fall in with the centered people.