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Global

Arena Politics Could the success of the Front National party, which came first in three exit polls, signal a “massive rejection of the European Union” in France? In fact, despite the hostility that UKIP experienced across the UK in the build-up to the elections, the results were, on the whole, not that surprising. Opinion polls taken prior to the elections suggested that the new European Parliament would see an increase in the seats gained by Euro-sceptic parties. Indeed, UKIP was not the only party from the far-right that saw success in the European Parliament, as other parties from the right side of the spectrum were seen to rise up across Europe. Results were described as a rightwing ‘sweep’ in the media. Opinion polls taken prior to the elections suggested that the new European Parliament would see an increase in the seats gained by Euro-sceptic parties In France the neo-fascist Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, finished first with 25 per cent of the vote, causing French President François Hollande to declare the elections an “earthquake”. Following the release of the election results, Hollande, whose French Socialist Party emerged from the ballot with the worst score since European elections were first held in 1979, held an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the party’s dire results. The Front National has sent 24 MEPs to Strasbourg, representing an eight-fold increase over the last European Parliament. In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Le Pen said her party’s success meant a “massive rejection of the European Union” by the French public. “We are witnessing the total rejection of the system,” she said. Europe? But we’re British! The UK, unlike many of its continental cousins, has shown historical reluctance to commit itself fully to the EU cause, preferring to maintain as much independence as possible. The British psyche has a tendency to see the country as being part of Europe only in a very loose sense, preferring the idea of the UK as a separate island nation. Brits, for example, talk about ‘going to Europe’ on holiday, when, of course, they already live in Europe. British Euro-scepticism is an issue going right back to when the country first joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s – a move led by the Conservative Party, despite certain members of the party strongly opposing the move. Fast forward to 1992 and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty to integrate Europe more economically, and the then Conservative Prime Minister John Major came under heavy pressure to negotiate special consideration for Britain. The EEC affairs committee eventually adopted a compromise in the hope of winning over voters opposed to the treaty. The compromise called for a series of opt-outs, including dispensation from monetary and economic union, allowing the UK to keep the pound as its currency. The history of Euro-scepticism within the UK has made negotiating with Europe difficult for UK prime ministers, who must indulge in a delicate balancing act to please an electorate that is often sceptical about Europe, while keeping hold of the trade advantages that being a part of the EU brings. The current Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition has made for an awkward position on Europe, with the Lib Dems being the most pro-Europe mainstream British party, while elements of the Conservative party remain staunchly anti-EU.  www.global global four th quar ter 2014 -br ief ing.org l 41


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