What Do the Results of the European Elections Mean for Open Society?

The danger of the populists’ success is that it will be interpreted as a vote for xenophobia and anti-EU sentiment. In fact, recent research on first-time voters for radical parties shows that there are much deeper trends at work here.
Across the EU, radical parties—including anti-EU and xenophobic parties—have made significant electoral gains. In France, the National Front, once on the extreme racist fringe, will have 24 seats in the European Parliament, as will the UK Independence Party, which wants to dismantle EU laws that protect the most marginalized people in Europe. I spoke with Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, about the results.

What do these election results mean for the European Union and for open society?

The danger of the populists’ success is that it will be interpreted as a vote for xenophobia and anti-EU sentiment. In fact, recent research on first-time voters for radical parties shows that there are much deeper trends at work here—economic pain, a disillusionment with politics in general, and concern about how representative our democracies actually are. I’m concerned that if these results are interpreted to be referendums on immigration and the EU alone—which they are not—then mainstream parties will be tempted to move in the same direction, to co-opt xenophobic agendas in an attempt to become more populist than the populists.

And what might happen then?

To try to out-populize the populists is a dangerous strategy and it rarely works politically. It creates a demagogic atmosphere that allows for hate speech and xenophobia and threatens to accelerate the growth of intolerance that is already present in some European societies. The EU’s real achievements would be jeopardized if it becomes the scapegoat for everything that is going wrong in Europe. If it’s unable to work to help to find solutions to the legitimate grievances that voters have, then its added value will wither away.

The aftermath of an election is a good time to remind ourselves that democracy does not stop at the ballot box. What can European citizens do to continue to exert an influence on the shape of the European Union and the decisions that it makes?

Beyond elections every five years, there are many ways that European citizens can get involved at the EU level. The European institutions are increasingly open: As a citizen, I can get information, lodge complaints, even launch a legal action if the institutions aren’t doing their job properly. I can also get involved through European citizens’ initiatives, and there are many fora at different levels of government. It’s important to take advantage of those opportunities to give democracy life through participation.

Can the EU do a better job of making people aware of these opportunities?

There is a lot the EU can do. It’s important that the EU becomes less complex and more transparent—and national politicians have an important role to play. They should ensure that citizens understand what’s at stake with issues such as digital freedoms, food safety, and animal rights. These are issues that people care deeply about, and the EU needs to be very open to citizens’ concerns, whether they are about mobile roaming charges or fees for bank transfers across borders in the Eurozone. These are things that materially affect people’s daily lives—and their wallets. The EU needs to listen, and not just every five years. It’s vital that the political debates within the EU are as pluralistic and open as possible.

Which brings us back to the elections.

My concern about the European Parliament after this election is that a large and noisy group of populists could cause the whole parliament to listen to a narrower range of interests, too busy dealing with gimmicks rather than real issues. If the populists drive the mainstream parties together in a grand coalition, there will be deals done behind closed doors. What we need is an open public debate that engages the citizens of Europe.

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It just means that INJUSTICE have been going on for a LONG time already. Danish governments (both sides- blue wing and red wing) are terrible about respecting human rights for its own citizens and it only getting worst and worst- and that's why people have voted now as they did.

Human right is NOT existing in Europe, and is broken BY AUTHORITIES THEMSELVES! All those "socialist", "liberal", "democrat" and other political parties have failed until now, and that's why people react now as they do. That's why citizens react now and vote as they did. Human right in Europe is just a empty word, and something which is beeing talked about, practised, respected by local politicians if it happens somewhere outside the country...

I did not vote at all- in my point of wiew all political parties are WRONG. I am waiting for the times where political parties are forbidden in Parliaments, and where one can get elected into parliament - ONLY as a individual/individ!

What is disturbing about the EU elections is that as always Europeans, near and far, seek to blame anything other than the system when they see it's not working.
That always means in particular non White people.
My point about near and far is this, Canada, USA, Australia and others already are fermenting this so called "populist" thread and have gone as far as claiming that there is a "White genocide" taking place across the world in so called White countries.
The solution is to expel or otherwise cause to leave from such domains all non White populations regardless of how many generations they may have resided.
These elections, even though the "left" may have made some gains are an insight into what is rising on a global scale and the troubles ahead.
Capitalism cannot fix itself therefore the poorer classes will not be satisfied, just manipulated to look elsewhere for someone to put the blame.

Well said. But we ought to also consider a strategy to enable non-EU citizens living permanently in the EU a venue for more political participation, i.e. voting rights, so that these voices, too, can be heard.

Alarming shift which throws the responsibility back on leadership to address these issues openly, as citizens of Europe.

Interesting.

How can the EU become more "transparent" when the vast majority of EUROPEAN VOTERS can barely follow the development of the plethora of multi-national and supranational institutions that "comprise" the EU? New supranational treaties every few years etc.? People want government at a level they CAN influence i.e. the nation state and local government. The further away from them the various European umbrellas progress the less relevant the "EU" is to their social and economic interests and concerns. Furthermore, the more Germany especially and France (in tow) decide with their "inbuilt majority" of national governments, the more the voters feel that European government is ALIEN and unconcerned with the interests of ordinary Europeans. GERMANY, FRANCE, THE EU AND EURO ARE NOT EUROPE, THE CITIZENS OF EUROPE ARE EUROPE. Fail to grasp that and your EU train is going to crash into the end station, even at multi speed. Dream ooooooon....

I think this is an issue on both bigger and lower levels than the ones mentioned in this article.
What about the nationalists that are now in the Ukrainian government?
Is the world moving towards a second cold war?
Or maybe even worse to the infamous third world war?
If such conflicts become real or not i hope europe will act as a third party neither aligned to the west or the east.

There has been no truly European debate. As long as the EU is looked at through the filter of national press, its functionning will not be understood. Europe needs mediaforeurope, telling what is going on to all citizens in the EU under the european point of view.

Perhaps we should look at the EU vote from the perspectives of tribalism and inequality. Tribalism because there is no such thing as an EU Citizen. Even within nations there are fences that keep the tribes apart, usually labels based on religion or tribal history or economic areas. Inequality, well there are clearly simply too many people in the EU and too many people in the world. This is even more true for the poor and uneducated in the world. The EU has too many of these already, more uneducated immigrants are certain to experience either push back, or pressures for cheap labor exploitation. It's not they are bad people, there just isn't room. 80 million people in the UK? Insane.

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