I’m torn as to how to react.
On the one hand, I’m one of those people who feel the great problem with the EU is the democratic deficit – that it wants to evolve into something resembling a true government, but agglomerates power by stealth, without transparency, and won’t give any real power to representatives directly elected by the people.
On the other hand, it’s notable that the most dramatic votes for Euro-skepticism were from countries who are fundamentally opposed to remedying that democratic deficit – because they are more concerned about protecting their own national sovereignty. France thinks of Europe as a French-led union of states, and has historically opposed that vision to the German notion that the EU would evolve in the direction of a federation (modeled, naturally, on Germany itself). The UK, meanwhile, has always been ambivalent about the EU – understandably, since for three centuries the UK’s primary foreign policy objective was to prevent the emergence of a single, dominant power on the European continent.
According to The Economist, extreme Euroskeptic parties gained 63 seats in the European parliament as a result of these elections. Of those, 31 – 50% – were from France and the UK. By contrast, all of the states who have joined the EU since 1986 put together added only 9 extreme Euroskeptic seats. Germany’s Euroskeptic representation also increased – from zero to 7 seats – but that’s still only 7% of the German delegation. A far cry from France’s or the UK’s over 30% showing.
Solving Europe’s core structural problems might well make the EU more popular in Germany, and also more popular in Poland and Belgium and Spain. But those same reforms would probably make it even less popular in France and the UK, because they would necessitate a sacrifice of even more national sovereignty in exchange for reducing the democratic deficit.
Similarly, immigration pits the interests of National Front and UKIP voters against the interests of citizens of EU members like Poland and Romania that benefit from the free movement of labor.
So it’s probably wrong to see this election as a European referendum against Europe. If anything, the differential results feel like another bit of proof that there is not a single “Europe” to vote one way or another.