The Business Times

A wake-up call for Europe's politicians

Published Tue, May 27, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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IN the run-up to the European Parliament (EP) elections that concluded on Sunday, observers generally expected that extremist parties would make some gains. But hardly anyone forecast the dramatic results that we have seen, in which far-right parties have outperformed centrists in such large and significant EU members as France and the UK. The gains made by other extremist parties elsewhere were also far beyond expectations. The results have been described as a "political earthquake" and for understandable reasons.

In France, the National Front party led by Marine Le Pen, which has openly campaigned on a xenophobic agenda, won 25 per cent of the vote and topped the polls. In Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by maverick politician Nigel Farage - who wants the UK to leave the European Union - did better than the mainstream Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, picking up some 28 per cent of the vote. Far-right parties in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Germany and Greece will also be sending their representatives to Brussels, as will the Greek far-left Syriza movement, which garnered more votes than the mainstream parties.

To be sure, centrists will still control the majority in the 751-seat European Parliament. Also, it is not clear to what extent, if at all, the extremist parties can collaborate with each other; they do not share the same agenda, and some are simply nationalistic. However, their presence will be noticeable and will make a difference. At a minimum, it will make EU-wide legislation a more protracted exercise. The ability of the EU to forge trade and other agreements with other countries and regions may also be complicated. In this context, the Singapore-EU free trade agreement will be coming up for a vote by the new Parliament; how smoothly it goes remains to be seen.

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