Euroscepticism: More than a British phenomenon

  
Nigel Farage's party could win more than 100 seats in parliament in the UK's 2015 general election.

With Prime Minister David Cameron having vowed to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU, Britain's penchant for EU bashing is well publicised. But there are political parties in other member states which are far from in love with the European project, and whose stance against integration has been fanned by the worsening of the economic crisis.

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Overview

That the European Union claimed the last Nobel Peace Prize may have done little to turn the tide of euroscepticismWith Europe in the throes of an economic crisis, resentment towards Brussels is higher than ever. Many Europeans have blamed the EU for causing the crisis, citing a failure of the euro currency. They also resent the EU for continued rounds of austerity measures, which have seen some communities lose vital services, and for its perceived lack of democratic legitimacy.

Speaking to British Labour Leader Ed Miliband in New Statesman magazine, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, warned about the effect the crunch could have on European morale: “Of course [euroscepticism] worries me … There are old demons in Europe - extreme nationalism, populism, xenophobia. You see that in times in crisis that extremist forces, populist forces, have a better ground to oversimplify things and to manipulate feelings.”

But to authors and political scientists Robert Harmsen and Menno Spiering, the EU integration process is a victim of its success.

In their book 'Euroscepticism: Party Politics, National Identity and European Integration' (2004) the authors suggest: "The European Union's progressively expanding competence has, correspondingly, multiplied the potential sources of friction which may give rise to forms of Euroscepticism."

They also suggest the EU opens itself up to criticism through its 'soft' power style.

"Equally, the EU's particular propensity for 'existential' political debate, regularly revising its founding treaties in the midst of discussions as to its finalities and purpose, has perhaps also served to fuel a commensurate questioning of that purpose."

Nik de Boer and Maarten Hillebrandt of the Amsterdam Centre for Law and Governance say the mistrust between citizens and the EU is understandable.

"The European member states have never really sought to involve their citizens in the EU. The political debate about the goal of the EU and the way to reach it has largely taken place behind closed doors," they wrote on BlogActiv.

They said this has led to European citizens putting the brakes on further integration through national referenda. The EU has become something to either be for or against, they added.

Definition

The word sceptic denotes a member of one of the ancient Greek schools of philosophy, or more specifically that of Pyrrho, who believed that real knowledge of things is impossible.

Eurosceptics are citizens or politicians who present themselves as ‘sceptical’ - critical - of the union which they say takes powers away from their national government and poses a threat to their national sovereignty.

There are supposedly two forms of euroscepticism - ‘hard’ and ‘soft’.

‘Hard’ or ‘withdrawalist’ euroscepticism is the opposition to membership or the existence of the EU. The European Parliament’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, which includes the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), is hard eurosceptic.

‘Soft’ or ‘reformist’ euroscepticism supports the existence of the EU and membership to the Union, but opposes further integrationist EU policies and the idea of a federal Europe. The European Conservatives and Reformists group, including the British Conservative Party and the European United Left-Nordic Green Left alliance, can be described as soft eurosceptics.

But euroscepticism can further be viewed as part of a spectrum, ranging from 'europhobia' - similar to xenophobia - to a healthy sceptical attitude, and questioning of accepted beliefs. As such, certain forms of scepticism exist across all political spheres.

Interviewees from a December 2011 European Parliament report on British euroscepticism, ranging from a former EU Council press officer to a correspondent from the Daily Express, a particularly eurosceptic UK paper, outlined such a spectrum. Xenophobia and europhobia were judged to be the most extreme expression of euroscepticism. 'Non-integrationism', 'eurorealism', 'populism', 'euroboredom' and criticism of the EU were deemed milder forms.

Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, says scepticism is a process of discovering the truth rather than a blanket non-acceptance of the latest theory. Hence, unthinking support can be as bad, if not worse, than blanket non-acceptance. This is why both eurosceptics and supporters of the EU both try to claim they are 'realistic'. 

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