February 15, 2016, by Editor

Front National, UKIP and Podemos: A warning to Europe

Written by Martin Brezovan.

In the last couple of years, Europe has witnessed a dramatic rise in popularity of new, alternative political parties. In many cases, their electoral successes did not translate into adequate representation in national bodies. However, I believe it would be very unwise to approach the results of the elections that have taken place from the view of the seats won, rather than the votes won, by the different parties. In three of the EU’s most powerful countries, France, the UK and Spain, radical parties have recently received millions of votes and a failure to address their voters’ reasons for supporting those parties could be fatal for the EU.

In France, the Front National, active since the 1970s, has reached the heights of popular support in the last few years. Although it only translated into 2 seats in the National Assembly (due to the electoral system), the Front received over 13 per cent of popular vote in the first round of the 2012 election. More importantly, the party is now the strongest representative of France in the European Parliament, having won almost 25% of the vote in the 2014 EP elections. Furthermore, in autumn 2015 the Front National received over 6 million votes in the regional elections (amounting to some 27%). Still, the French electoral system caused that this translated into just 356 seats out of 1880 in the regional councils. Nevertheless, and actually therefore, the mainstream parties (the conservatives and the socialists) will have to address the Front voters’ concerns if they want to prevent further rising of support for the Front, or even a possible revolution (which would be nothing uncommon in France). The Republicans are ideologically fitter for this task, and one can already see that they are getting an upper hand over the more pro- EU Socialists.

In Great Britain, the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has been growing ever stronger since its foundation in 1993. After the European Parliament elections in 2014, it too is the UK’s largest party in the European Parliament, having achieved a vote share of 27.5 per cent. To put this in perspective, in 2009 and 2004 UKIP got some 16%; in 1999 6.7%, and in 1994 only 1 per cent. In the UK parliamentary elections, UKIP has also been showing growing strength, achieving its best ever result in 2015 and soaring to 12.6% of popular vote, compared to 3.1% in 2010. Thanks to the British electoral system, however, the party still only won 1 seat out of 650 in the Commons. Considering that UKIP received the 3rd largest amount of votes (almost 4 million) of all parties, urges to modify the electoral system seem absolutely justified. Like in France, the traditional parties (Conservatives, Labour) will now have to basically act as if UKIP representatives were in Parliament if they don’t want to lose support or risk public unrest. Accordingly, it can hardly be a coincidence that David Cameron has pursued some rhetoric and even policies reminiscent of UKIP, for instance in the area of immigration.

In Spain, the radical leftist Podemos party was founded as late as 2014. Nevertheless, it has managed to grow into one of the strongest parties in the country, building its support around similar topics as the Greek Syriza- criticism of austerity measures and the EU, appealing to young people and generally those hit by the bad economic situation. On facebook, Podemos is by far the most ‘liked’ Spanish party, reflecting the predominance of younger population among its supporters. What’s more important, in the recent parliamentary elections Podemos won 20.7% of popular vote, becoming the third strongest faction in Spain. Not only is it likely that putting together a government will be difficult in this country, it will hardly be possible to ignore the voice of the 5 million people that voted Podemos, be it with or without Podemos itself in government.

Thus the situation is similar in all these major EU countries. There is a Eurosceptic party in each of them that attracts millions of people who don’t trust the mainstream politicians anymore. This creates a situation in which, even if the parties themselves don’t win many seats (often due to fallible electoral systems), the voice of their voters must be echoed by the state leaders. And although populism is not the key, it is up to the traditional politics to convince people that no radical alternative is needed. If they fail to do this, Europe may soon find itself in a mess.

Martin Brevozan is a third year student studying a BA in History and Politics.His research interests include IR theory, political theory and language in politics. Image credit: CC by Wikipedia Commons.

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