As the alcohol hangover from Sunday night fades, we can start to enjoy the political hangover. Here in the UK, there is a lot of finger-pointing at who “let UKIP in”. Across the rest of Europe, the media narrative appears to be the rise of extremes.
Personally, I think blaming people for the rise of UKIP is a pointless exercise. If 25% of people, or 10% people, or 50% of people believe that the EU should be abolished and immigration should end, then the point of a Parliament is to represent their views. Politicians who want more Europe, or stronger human rights, or a social union cannot win by exiling the views of their opponents. They can only win by fighting and beating them.
In any case, the move to the right was less uniform that the newspapers suggest. As Rob Ford, expert on UKIP, said on Twitter “the only pattern is that there is no pattern”. If you look across European politics you can certainly see a lot of common political positions, but the parties espousing them moved in different directions doing the elections. The True Finns and the Dutch Freedom Party went backwards, while the Five Star movement in Italy was handily beaten into second place by the exceedingly mainstream centre-left.
Looking to the future, the European institutions have to handle a very cold shower from voters, and a more sceptical parliament. What to do? There was much talk in Brussels this evening of employment, growth, deregulation and reform. All are important, none are enough.
This is an old song of ours, but the EU needs to take on a much less centralised and bureaucratic mindset, and take advantage of its comparative youth and small size (compared to member state governments) to experiment with open and networked democracy. The next commission, #withjuncker or without, must to put this at the top of their list of reforms, or no employment or growth strategy will be worth writing – and it’ll be the fire next time.