Fears of the rise of the far-right may be overblown. What tied voters together was a rejection of 'ever closer union'

Modern Europe was forged in the crucible of endless bloody wars


After yesterday’s results, it is no longer possible to doubt that the European Union is suffering from a serious malaise. But within the tsunami of euroscepticism which crashed over Brussels there are many different colours of dissent -  drastically different views both as to the nature of the sickness and its cure.

For some of the victors, notably Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, the EU is an irredeemable institution; as Mr Farage put it succinctly, “Europe should leave the EU”. Ms Le Pen, whose victory over both of France’s mainstream parties was the election’s most stunning upset, wants the repatriation of all powers, the end of the Euro, and an end to the right of free movement within Europe.

These and others among the deeply reactionary figures who won yesterday represent a popular yearning for the illusory comforts of the past, when Europe was, as they falsely recall it, cosily Christian, hermetically divided into nation states, and overwhelmingly white.

But it is a past that we can never recover – for which we should be profoundly grateful to the visionary founders of what became the European Union.

Modern Europe was forged in the crucible of endless bloody wars. The Common Market was conceived by leaders who understood that the only way to avoid ever more devastating conflicts in the future was to bury the continent’s differences in powerful common institutions.

That vision is as valid and vital today as it was 60 years ago. It has yielded more than two generations of peace, with the resultant prosperity spread far more broadly and fairly than in the past. The very fact that we all now vote for one continent-wide parliament is a measure of how far Europe has come.

But the European Union is not loved, even by those who regard it as vital. The logic of “ever-closer union” has gained an apparently unstoppable bureaucratic momentum, which threatens to steamroller national parliaments into insignificance; the equally imperious logic of expansion has brought in countries whose political and economic backwardness makes them difficult bedfellows; while the Euro, far from making Europe more equal, has had the effect in the past seven years of dramatically increasing its inequalities, causing atrocious levels of youth unemployment, and consigning much of the Union to long-term stagnation. Meanwhile corruption has become shockingly common at the highest level, and the gap between rulers and ruled has never seemed wider.

The Union, in other words, has taken a wrong turn, and these results are a scream of rage from voters who feel themselves trapped inside a juggernaut that is barrelling into a pot-holed cul-de-sac.

This disaffection has opened the door to neo-Nazi racists, authoritarian ranters and other dangerous cranks. But it would be a mistake to interpret the results as a mindless lurch to the extreme right by voters possessed by fear alone.

With the arguable exception of France – where only this week Jean Le Pen, founding father of the triumphant Front National, offered the Ebola virus as a solution to the immigration problem – the election results reflect a continent-wide awareness of the problems besetting the EU, and a rainbow of ideas about solving them.

So for example in Greece, which has seen the rise of the deeply alarming, openly Fascist and violent Golden Dawn party, voters have chosen instead to back the socialist Syriza party as its riposte to the harsh austerity foisted on the country by Brussels. In Hungary the notoriously anti-semitic and anti-gypsy Jobbik party made no progress. The gains made by Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party were more apparent than real, caused by the folding of a rival outfit, while the Green party there did almost as well. In Britain one useful role performed by Ukip has been to drive the BNP to the margins.

At this point the worst response from the EU’s mandarins would be to keep calm and carry on. The voters have delivered a thoroughly mixed message, but unscrambled it means that the success of the EU should no longer be dependent, if it ever was, on “ever greater union”, and that national differences must be accorded far greater respect than in the past. But a vital institution it remains; and Britain still belongs at the heart of it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions