UKREN blog

Thursday 12 June 2014

What next after the European elections?


Three weeks after the European Parliament elections, much analysis (and some speculation) has been undertaken by the news media, think tanks and political commentators. I went along to one such event organised by the the Policy Network with some influential speakers in Joaquin Almunia (Vice-President of the European Commission), Jeroen Dijsselbloem (Dutch Finance Minister and President of the Eurogroup), Gideon Rachman (FT) and others. Would I gain an insight into whether the shift in voting will have an impact on EU policy, particularly on race equality and immigration?

The expected gains in the European Parliament elections by far-right eurosceptic parties - many having abhorrent anti-foreigner, anti-migrant and anti-Muslim views - winning 27% of the vote in the UK, 26% in Denmark, 25% in France and 19% in Austria is deeply troubling mainstream political parties across Europe. Somewhat bizarrely, the new European Parliament is less categorised by whether a party is left, centre or right wing, but on whether it is for or against the EU. Calls to reform the EU and the debate over whether one of the federalist candidates for the President of the European Commission role is up to such a job, resound. David Cameron’s EU reform views outlined in his Daily Telegraph ‘seven demands of a new EU’, smack of playing to his divided party, with the inflammatory language of ‘vast migrations’, ‘European interference’, ‘unnecessary interference by the European Court of Human Rights’, and benefit tourism. Each country and each political party’s views on what constitutes EU reform differs. But some key questions remain unanswered.

A critical question is what role will the new far-right MEPs play in the European Parliament? Will they rarely turn up, not participate in committees and just claim a nice salary and perks? Or will they join committees and shape legislation that will advance their racist agendas? The EU’s fortress Europe immigration policy and the poor way that undocumented migrants are treated once they arrive in the EU are policies that are urgently in need of reform. If the far-right MEPs play an active role then reform will be difficult in these areas. This may well be the intention of the Front National leader Marine Le Pen. What political appetite is there for new policies on race equality and protection against discrimination? 

The EU’s Race Equality Directive was introduced in 2000 to counter the rise of the far right, especially Jorg Haider in Austria. Will the mainstream politicians similarly strengthen the EU’s fundamental rights? Unlikely. Many of the panelists at the Policy Network conference thought that the focus of the EU will be either continuing exactly as before without reference to the election results, or it will go back to basics and concentrate on economic growth. Another panelist listed the EU’s priorities as growth and employment, economic monetary union, climate and energy, migration and the EU’s role as a global power. 

Only time will tell whether EU institutions and national governments, through the Council of Ministers, constructively tackle these issues. What we may have for a while is negative bickering over who should head the European Commission and whether the UK should be in or out of the EU. So what next after the European elections?

It will be a challenge for race equality campaigners to rise above the nationalist rhetoric which has potentially dangerous implications for a Europe increasingly marked by its multicultural diversity. As but one example, an article in the Guardian shows a tenfold increase in hate crimes against Polish people in the UK, a rise blamed on the recession, benefit cuts and stereotyping by politicians. It is urgent that groups working with communities across the country communicate to politicians the outcomes that are likely to result from inept and ill-considered anti-foreigner sentiment.

Alan Anstead, UKREN Coordinator

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