Here it is again, the one topic that is on everyone’s minds in Brussels and Strasbourg these days – the May 2019 European Parliament elections!
A number of rather loud concerns about the forthcoming elections are raised about the prospective rise of the Eurosceptics (cue dramatic orchestral sting).
Eurosceptic parties and political platforms all around Europe – so the argument goes – are rallying for the EP elections, ready to undermine the Union from the inside to serve their political agenda and unwilling to contribute in any constructive fashion to the EU, bent only on its dissolution. Among these, one would especially expect to find uncompromisingly anti-establishment political actors, those who are opposed to the EU as the very epitome of the political establishment of today.
As with many political labels, this one is something of an over-simplification. Indeed, Eurosceptic parties do share a common political platform of opposition to European integration, and, by extension, rejection of a number of EU policies, especially those that they perceive as strengthening the EU’s supranational dimension. However, between these fundamental policy positions, the notion of ‘Euroscepticism’ encompasses a broad variety of ideological positions across the political spectrum, not only at its extremes, but some that would traditionally be considered to be rather close to the centre of the left-right continuum.
Back in early-2012, roughly a year and a half prior to Croatia’s EU accession, Gong had undertaken a step to allow Eurosceptic voices to be presented in the Croatian public space by hosting a series of three public debates, with proponents and detractors of EU accession. Hosted by veteran TV-journalist Mirjana Rakić to ensure professional and impartial moderation, the debates were meant to present the two sides on the EU on equal footing, trying actively to circumvent the consensus which was held fast by the political elites, and to hear out the arguments offered by both sides. In those times, the debates even made news in the public media, and were overall of a pretty high quality, and comparatively more argument-laden than a number of other public fora where these positions met, including the parliamentary one.
Finally, it might be worth reminding that, following a distinction established by political scientists Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart in their 2008 book Opposing Europe? The Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism, it might be reasonable to think about the notion of “hard” and “soft” Euroscepticism. “Hard Euroscepticism” denotes, in a nutshell, a resistance to European integration as a whole and advocating leaving the EU or doing away with it all together. Meanwhile, “soft Euroscepticism” is usually understood to be a critical attitude towards the EU or to specific EU policies, but not necessarily to the entire supranational project.
As with anything, this differentiation is more analytical than it is a firmly established delimitation. Still, it might help us to think about critical voices that have gained traction in recent years.
With Eurosceptics of various stripes – from the extremes to the near-centre of the political spectrum – looking to win as much as a third of EP seats, things are indeed looking as though a major change in European politics is coming up. Still, it is worth remembering that there is no such thing as a single, monolithic block opposing EU, but rather a multitude of voices with differing ideas what needs to be fixed about the EU, and not only through its direct dissolution or political paralysis.