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"I want to destroy the EU"

by Dr. habil. Karsten Grabow, PD Dr. Torsten Oppelland

EU opponents in the 8th European Parliament. Taking stock of the past year

In the run-up to the European elections of 2014, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung predicted that the EU’s opponents would grow in strength. Over the last ten to fifteen years, several protest parties whose original attitude had been mainly critical towards foreigners, Islam, or immigration had set up the European Union as their second enemy stereotype. The forecasts were overtaken by reality: Never before have there been as many EU opponents sitting in the European Parliament as now.

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  • The number of EU opponents and critics among the members of the 8th European Parliament is greater than in the 7th Parliament. The political fringes of the EP have been strengthened.
  • Work in Parliament has become more complicated and finding majorities more difficult in individual cases. But  the majority of pro-EU parties still stands. Neither the EP nor the EU is acutely threatened by the greater strength  of their opponents.
  • EU opponents and critics are united by their dislike of the EU, the scope of its regulatory competences, the manner in which it arrives at decisions, and certain decisions it  has made, but the motives of the EU‘s opponents are as diverse as the objectives they strive for. We distinguish left-wing, technocratic, and right-wing EU critics and/or opponents, subdividing the latter into populist and extreme-right EU opponents.
  • Left-wing EU critics bewail the ‘austerity diktat of Brussels’ and the allegedly one-sided distribution of the burdens  involved in endeavouring to contain the sovereign debt  crisis. They demand an immediate end to budget discipline, debt cuts for the most highly indebted countries in the EU, or at least the communalisation of state debts through euro bonds and increased taxes for the wealthy.
  • Its right-wing opponents regard the European Union mainly as an inadmissible interference with national self-determination. They want to dissolve the Union either entirely or partially, or they demand that their countries leave the EU or at least the euro. They fear that Europe-wide standards regulating economic and financial policy might cause prosperity to decline, and they criticise current practices in immigration and asylum policy as well as the cost of the EU institutions themselves.
  • Left-wing EU opponents are generally more active than those from the right wing. While right-wing EU opponents often hold aloof from work in the EP and propagate symbolic politics in its plenary, left-wing EU critics want a ‘different’ Europe.
  • The quantity and quality of the Parliamentary work of the right-wing EU opponents varies as well. MEPs from extreme-right parties are present more often that average at plenary as well as committee meetings.  In the plenary, they do ask for the floor to speak on cardinal points in their respective programmes, although they preponderantly restrict themselves to make-believe activities. In the committees, they are passive and largely marginalised, being non-attached members.
  • The right-wing populists are the least active and united of all. The UKIP, the Front National, the PVV and the FPÖ agitate against the EU in the plenary but participate much less than the average MEP in the EP‘s committee work. In concrete Parliamentary work, they accord only very little importance to implementing their own programmes. This suggests that their focus is more on national than European policy. They instrumentalise European elections and their mandates in the  European Parliament to exert pressure on their governments at home  or further their national ambitions.
  • A newcomer to the European Parliament, the AfD is a party whose deputies, although their activity is not above average in every field, closely pursue their election platform, i.e. the abolition of the euro. However, their most active deputy, Beatrix von Storch, devotes a great deal of activity to a subject that is not one of the programmatic highlights of her party (gender mainstreaming).
  • For an opponent of the EU, the rate at which the AfD agrees to final decisions made by the EP is remarkably high. Therefore, it in no way rejects the EU altogether like, for instance, the UKIP. However, its members contradict each other on important issues in European policy, thus reflecting the party‘s diffuse condition in Germany. At the end of April, its deputy Hans-Olaf Henkel resigned from his post in the Federal Executive because of the alleged infiltration of the party by ‘right-wing ideologists’. While the AfD party in the EP does not deserve to be called that, its chairman, Bernd Lucke, who is active in Parliament, appears to have but little control over his party.
  • At present, a majority of pro-European parties can still be found in the EP on central issues. However, there are individual cases in which forming a majority has become more difficult because the pro-European parties have lost some of their seats. Depending on the content of the bills submitted, the pro-European parties need to look to other EP parties for support for their initiatives.
  • It is not the EU opponents in the EP that present the greatest threat to the European Parliament and the EU but their impact at home. The EU opponents will continue urging their governments to put national interests before the European in the European Council, thus making it more difficult to arrive at a pro-European consensus. It is possible that a populist re-nationalisation might spring up in Europe.


You can download the entire publication as a pdf.

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Dr. Viola Neu


Deputy Head of Division Analysis and Consulting,
Head of Department Electoral and Social Research +49 30 26996-3506


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