Friday, December 26, 2003
Will France become the first country to leave the European Union?

The question in the title has secretly nagged at me for some time. After the French Presidential election, it was clear that centrist politics had declined in favour of the traditional extremes of Left and Right and the environmental movement. This electoral arithmetic ensured that France met some of the preconditions for withdrawal from the European Union.

The scenarios for withdrawal from the European Union will always involve the domestic politics of a particular Member State. An obvious statement, but nevertheless one that allows us to examine what political parties will favour this development. From the protest parties that have arisen in Europe over the last ten years, it appears that 'coalitions of the willing', disillusioned by their existing political elites, can emerge rapidly and gain strong support in political systems with proportional representation and low electoral hurdles that bar smaller parties. The development of the Dean campaign, with its internet based organisation and grassroots support, indicates that existing continental political systems are also vulnerable to these surprising and unpredicted movements.

Recent polls have shown that the European Union is losing public support, especially when tied to the fortunes of the dominant political class. The structure of protest or extremist parties and the issues upon which they are based depend upon the peculiarities of each Member State. They can range from the racist and nationalist organisation of Jean Marie Le Pen to the regionalist Northern Alliance of Umberto Bossi and the liberal Fortuynists. However, their protests will react against the prevailing political structure, a structure increasingly identified with the EU.

Withdrawal will prove the political holy grail of a protest party, outsiders excluded from the spoils of the state and determined to gain their time in the trough of despondent taxpayers. Certain countries have proved or are proving vulnerable to these forms of political organisation including France, Italy under the 'rule of Berlusconi' and Holland. From May 2004, the nascent and unformed polities of Enlargement with their will o' the wisp parties and fickle voters (just like France really) will provide an enlarged canvas for the writ of protest.

(17.05, 26th December 2003)


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