Friday, 6 August 2004

Eurosceptics Rising

LONDON — A pig farmer from Poland and a politically incorrect talk-show host in Britain have grasped what’s clearly been lost on Europe’s ruling elite: that average folks are in no mood for another centralized government telling them how long their ladders should be or whether they should buy asparagus by the pound or the kilo.

They’ve got more than enough of that at home, thank you very much.

What was billed as the largest transnational election ever — roughly 155 million voters from 25 countries — backfired on the one-big-happy-European-family crowd last weekend. Instead of opting for integrationists to help the Franco-German axis build its vaunted counterweight to America’s hegemonic ambitions, a sizable chunk of the people chose to send a bunch of cranks and gadflies sworn on wrecking the very system they are sworn to uphold.

When the new European Parliament, which divides its time between Brussels and Strasbourg in France, meets for the first time next month, at least 10 percent of its members will be from the ranks of new Eurosceptic parties. They vary widely in their intensity but share an aversion to the superstate ideal of Old Europe and the whiff of Eurocreep wafting out of Brussels these days.

The outcome couldn’t have come at a worse time for Euro-lovers. Even as the last votes were being tallied Sunday, foreign ministers were jetting off to Brussels to try and finalize a constitution for the bloc. They had hoped to have an agreement ironed out by the time heads of state from all 25 members of the union gathered on Thursday and Friday.

Now, the constitution may have to wait while they chew on the possibility that people in Krakow and Riga don’t necessarily share Jacques Chirac’s ideal of forcing 35-hour workweeks on everyone and spending those extra five hours coddling Middle Eastern dictators.

To be sure, there were some disappointments for the europhobes — most notably Denmark, where voters ousted two of the country’s four anti-EU MEPs, or Members of European Parliament — but the bulk of last weekend’s news was worthy of celebration for the anti crowd.

In the Czech Republic, the Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS) trounced the ruling Social Democrats in that country’s first European Parliament elections. In Sweden, the new JuneList party popped to a degree no one was expecting, securing three seats with 14 percent of the vote. It’s now the third largest party in the Swedish parliament.

In Poland, which only just joined the EU six weeks ago, the anti crowd found a hero in the face of former pig farmer Andrzej Lepper of the Self-Defense party. Together with the conservative League of Polish Families, eurosceptic parties in Poland took 29 percent of the ballot. In the Netherlands, Paul van Buitenen, who made a name for himself as a whistle-blower against EU corruption, won two seats for the Transparent Europe party, and in Austria, ex-journalist Hans Peter Martin, who exposed the expense-account shenanigans of MEPs, won a surprise two seats.

But the poster-child for this new movement is surely the silver-haired Robert Kilroy-Silk, a former BBC talk show host who was run out of town after referring to Muslims as “suicide bombers, limb amputators” and “women repressors” in a newspaper column.

Kilroy and his ilk in the U.K. Independence Party took nearly 17% of the vote in Britain and will become the dominant Eurosceptic party in the continent-wide assembly when it meets for the first time in July.

When asked at a post-election press conference what he was going to do when he went to the European Parliament, Kilroy replied with typical aplomb that he was going to wreck it. “Expose it for the waste, the corruption and the way it is eroding our independence and our sovereignty,” he added. “Our job is to go there and turn round and say, ‘This is what they do. This is how they waste your money. This is how they all go on the gravy train and spend their time in restaurants and all the rest of it’.” What’s most astounding about the exercise is that even as Kilroy and company were plotting their sabotage, the people who should have been paying heed to the vote still failed to notice the truck barreling toward them.

In a dispatch from Brussels Monday afternoon, Reuters relayed the argument of the European Commission — the EU’s executive body — that the Parliament didn’t have enough power, and that’s why people voted the way they did.

Yea. That’s right. That’s the answer.

By Scott Norvell

The author is London Bureau Chief, Fox News and a frequent TCS contributor.

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