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article imageEU needs to re-invent itself after poll shock, analysts say

By Thibauld Malterre (AFP)     May 27, 2014 in World

The rise of populist and right-wing parties which made sweeping gains in the European elections points to the need for the EU to re-invent itself, analysts say.

The nationalist shock vote on Sunday saw Eurosceptic parties in Britain, France and Denmark emerge frontrunners while right-wing groups made strong showings in Hungary and Greece.

One senior European diplomat went so far as to say the results reflected a malaise far more serious than the economic crisis that had rocked the eurozone and led to unpopular austerity measures, fuelling resentment against Brussels.

"We have lost the sense of the utility of Europe," the source said.

"What Europe needs is less of petty regulation," said Klaus-Dieter Sohn, an expert at the Centre for European Policy think-tank based in the German city of Freiburg.

"What we urgently need is to start discussions on what we expect from Europe and the next European Commission," he said, adding that these should cover thorny issues such as energy policy, the free circulation of goods and people and the unemployment spiral.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said a revamp was needed.

French Prime Minister Manual Valls arrives to attend a metting with Socialists members of Parliament...
French Prime Minister Manual Valls arrives to attend a metting with Socialists members of Parliament at the National Assembly on May 27, 2014 in Paris
Stephane De Sakutin, AFP

"I am convinced that Europe can be re-oriented to increase support for growth and employment, which it hasn't done in years," Valls said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "a policy of competitiveness, growth and jobs is the best answer" to wean back disgruntled voters.

Daniel Keller, Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France, said during a meeting of Freemasons following the elections: "Populist parties have been progressing in all the countries of the European Union. Europe is in ruins and there is nothing else to do but to rebuild."

The anti-EU and anti-immigration parties successfully tapped into growing voter frustration after years in the economic doldrums pushed unemployment in Europe to record highs, while governments cut spending to balance the public finances at Brussels's behest.

- 'Damage can be undone' -

But the damage is not irreversible, said Giovanni Orsina, a history and politics professor at Rome's Luiss-Guido Carli University.

French far-right party National Front (FN) president Marine Le Pen smiles during a press conference ...
French far-right party National Front (FN) president Marine Le Pen smiles during a press conference at the party's headquarters on May 27, 2014 in Nanterre, outside Paris
Fred Dufour, AFP

"It's clear that Europe has given an important signal of frustration but the anti-European vote is still only a third," he said.

"The main line is still pro-European... If Europe manages to meet voter expectations and the economy improves, maybe the frustration will go down."

However, there were some more difficult facets linked to the discontent over contentious issues such as "European integration and the demand for a recovery of national sovereignty and it will not be easy to respond to that," Orsini said.

UK Independence Party (UKIP)  leader Nigel Farage drinks a pint of beer in a pub before a press conf...
UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage drinks a pint of beer in a pub before a press conference with UKIP MEP's in central London on May 26, 2014
Carl Court, AFP

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had raised two points on the eve of the vote, saying Brussels has too much authority over national governments and that the Schengen visa-free travel zone is a failure in its current form and should be suspended until a common and better planned immigration policy is worked out.

"The Eurosceptics' challenge is aimed at member states and at European institutions," said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, from the Fondation Robert Schuman, a European research institute based in Paris and Brussels.

Giuliani said European institutions needed to draw up a "roadmap fixing priorities, with a time frame, including bridging the fiscal and social gap" between different member states.

"The rise of populism in Europe has been accelerated with the economic crisis," he said.

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