- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009



The Grand Old Party’s elephant still has a very sore head from the heavy defeat in November, but news from Europe probably will make it just want to go back to bed.

Republican politicians must be looking enviously across the Atlantic following the success of the center-right parties in the European Parliament elections, the results of which were announced late Sunday night.

Though the number of seats in the house was reduced by nearly 50, to 736, the European People’s Party (EPP), a coalition of pro-market parties from the European Union’s 27 member states, will be by far the biggest party, with 263 seats. Its nearest rivals, the Socialists, ended up with 162 — more than 100 fewer — and the next biggest group, the Liberals, won 80 seats.

Despite the harsh economic conditions Europe is suffering, this result is a resounding no to those politicians who were arguing, in the wake of the credit crunch, an anti-capitalist message or a need for more state intervention.

“The Socialists need to broaden their appeal and break loose from the chain of the early 20th century,” said former European Parliament member (MEP) Michiel van Hulten, now managing director at the public affairs firm Burson-Marsteller. “They need to produce a more hopeful message like [President] Obama did last year and not just bang on about what is wrong with capitalism. They also need to offer a more progressive philosophy that reflects the views of the general public.”

However, voters largely did not veer to the other extreme, either, as populist and nationalist parties did not make many gains overall and in some countries lost votes to the more mainstream Christian Democrats.

“Voters for the extreme parties are scared old farmers who never go further than to the end of the local track,” a Polish lawyer told me late Sunday night. “Younger voters tend to the center, and a European center, too.”

Nevertheless, there still are some scared old voters. In Finland, the nationalists blamed the crisis on the Italians, according to a Socialist MEP’s assistant with whom I talked as the results came in. They must come for the weather, I replied, to which she smiled and said, “Of course, they do.”

In Britain, nobody blamed the Italians for anything apart from good pizza, but several parties did vociferously attack the meddling of Brussels in local affairs. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) benefited most from the recent governmental meltdown and the opprobrium in which many mainstream politicians are held following the recent Westminster expenses scandal. They came in second with 17 percent after the Conservatives’ 28 percent.More ominously, the openly racist British National Party is likely to gain two seats, its first ever representation at any political level apart from local town councils.

Despite gains by center-right allies in France and Germany, the Tories failed to improve on their share of the vote of five years ago. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, has further angered his natural political friends in Europe by pledging that the party will quit the EPP.

“Cameron opted for [a] Eurosceptic message, but the appeasement technique never works, and he has not won back Tory voters who supported UKIP in 2004,” said a center-right parliamentary source. “He is still likely to win the next general election but could then be faced with a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which he is likely to lose because very few politicians in Britain are arguing a pro-European case. If that vote is lost, we are one step away from the U.K. leaving the European Union; it is a make-or-break moment for the country.”

Jeremy Slater is a British political and economic journalist based in Brussels.

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