“This wave of protest certainly is not short-term – it is lasting,” Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) said last Thursday, after his party became the third largest party in the British local elections. UKIP is a party that wants to take Britain out of the European Union.
All over Europe, the popularity of the E.U., the supranational organization of 27 European nations, is plummeting. A recent poll conducted by Eurobarometer, the E.U.’s polling organization, in the six major E.U. countries, found that public confidence in the E.U. has fallen to the lowest level ever. Since May 2007, distrust of the E.U. in Poland rose from 18 to 42 percent, in Italy from 28 to 53 percent, in France from 41 to 56 percent, in Germany from 36 to 59 percent, in Britain from 49 to 69 percent, and in Spain from 23 to 72 percent.
The E.U.’s aim is to transform Europe into a single federal state. One of the ways of achieving this aim is unification of economic and monetary policies. So far, 17 of the 27 E.U.-member states have joined the so-called Eurozone by adopting the Euro as their common currency. The project has backfired. The Euro has exacerbated the economic crisis. The one-size-fits-all currency has become the one-size-fits-none currency.
When the Euro was introduced in 2002, Europe’s leaders said it would bring economic growth and prosperity. They even promised full employment by 2010. Europe’s misery is largely self-inflicted. The Euro prevents countries from overcoming their economic problems by devaluing their currency and adapting their wage and price levels. Countries in financial difficulties have to rely on solidarity payments from countries in better shape. As the Euro is dragging everyone down, however, the countries in the North are becoming ever more reluctant to transfer their tax money to the South.
For the past three years, the E.U.’s rich countries have been bailing out the poorer ones, while in return all the Eurozone member states were forced to adopt austerity policies and transfer national sovereignty over their budgets to the unelected, irremovable E.U. bureaucracy in Brussels. The popular appeal of political parties opposing the austerity policies and/or the transfer of national sovereignty is growing everywhere, from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, to UKIP in Britain, to Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, to Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France. Britain is not even part of the Eurozone, but UKIP wants to take it out of the E.U. altogether. The PVV wants to take the Netherlands out of the Eurozone and out of the E.U., as well. Like UKIP, it wants to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a small and modest organization, limiting its ambition simply to establishing a free trade zone, to which so far only four non-E.U.-nations – Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland – belong.
In Germany, a new party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), is expected to make it through the 5 percent electoral threshold in the next general elections on September 22nd. AfD, formally launched by a group of economics professors last Month, wants to take Germany out of the Eurozone. The party, which is conservative, may, however, draw voters away from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition and tip the balance in favor of the Social-Democrats and their Green partners. Merkel’s coalition is currently leading at 44 percent in the polls, against 41% for the leftist alliance.
While most of the anti-E.U. parties – AfD, UKIP, PVV – tend to be pro-American, their position towards American interests will be shaped by the position Washington takes on the E.U. centralization policies and the Euro. The current U.S. administration, recognizing a centrally-controlled supranational political project when it sees one, supports the E.U. project. Last January, Philip Gordon, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, told the British government that it should stay in the E.U. The administration also said it wants the E.U. to let Turkey become a member.
The European people are rebelling against the unelected E.U. and its grandiose, self-regarding project of abolishing the national sovereignty of the various European countries and turning the whole of Europe into a super-Belgium – an artificial state encompassing several nations with separate languages and distinct cultures and traditions.
Europe’s rising tide of discontent mirrors its rising unemployment figures. Last week, on May 1st, which ironically is Labor Day in Europe, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (E.U.), published the unemployment figures for the 27 E.U. member states. These figures are at a record high. Over 26.5 million people – one in every eight Europeans – are currently unemployed. The figures are highest in Greece (27.2 percent), Spain (26.7 percent) and Portugal (17.5 percent). They are lowest in the three German-speaking E.U. member states: Austria (4.7 percent, Germany (5.4 percent) and Luxemburg (5.7 percent). For the E.U. as a whole the unemployment figure is 10.9 percent. In the Eurozone – the group of 17 E.U. member states that use the Euro as their common currency – the figure is even higher and stands at 12.1 percent. This is far worse than in Japan (4.3 percent) and in the United States (7.6 percent).
If someone loses his job at around 45 years of age, chances of finding other employment are only five percent. The worst-off, however, are Europe’s young. Unemployment for those aged 25 years or younger is dramatically high. One in every four young Europeans is unemployed. Youth unemployment stands at 50.5 percent in Spain, 50.4 percent in Greece, 35.4 percent in Portugal, 31.9 percent in Italy, and 31.6 percent in Ireland. In Austria and Germany the figure is 7.6%, in the Netherlands 10.5 percent, in Luxemburg 19.7 percent.
Talented young people from Southern Europe are looking for jobs in Northern Europe, where unemployment is lower. But even there, with youth unemployment hovering around or above 10 percent, a growing number of young people are looking for employment elsewhere: in America, Canada, Australia, and the non-E.U. states of Europe. Last year, 80,000 immigrants from the E.U. settled in Switzerland. Last week, the Swiss authorities announced that starting on May 1st they are restricting the number of immigrants from E.U. countries.
The rising unpopularity of the E.U. is not occurring only in Northern Europe, whose peoples have to bail out the South, but also in Southern Europe — a hopeful sign. It indicates that even in Southern Europe, at the receiving end of the financial transfers, people realize that the Euro and the E.U.’s authoritarian and vainglorious project of molding the various peoples of Europe into a single state is leading to disaster. Even in the South, people realize that it is better to have a job of their own than to live off handouts.
Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.Peter Martino
About the Author: Peter Martino is a European affairs columnist for the Gatestone Institute.
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