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On May 22, the UK and the Netherlands commenced voting on European Union (EU) Parliament members (MEP’s). At the close of local elections throughout Britain, the BBC indicated preliminary election results of “anti-EU” UK Independence Party (UKIP) as having gained more than 100 local council seats.
The UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage has said that, “The UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house”. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has registered his acknowledgement that the British electorate has strong concerns about preservation of jobs for British workers over those of immigrants, whether from the EU or elsewhere, and that Britons are undecided if to remain in the EU (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-26892237).
For the EU, the importance of this year’s elections in the UK and other EU member states is the election of a new slate of the Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s). MEP's are elected in each member state based on proportional representation, with the largest elections to occur on Sunday, May 25. Of note, early exit polls in the Netherlands show that the anti-EU Freedom Party, the PVV, may have come in only fourth in MEP elections. For the UK, however, strong showings by UKIP could have more influence on how many MEP’s they send to the European Parliament. As Sunday rolls around, it remains to be seen how other anti-EU parties fare in France, Greece and Italy.
There are reports of a growing “Eurosceptic” sentiment in a number of EU member states. Some of the reason lies in the economic malaise that the EU has experienced for a number of years.
As the EU is an economic and political partnership of 28 member states, the EU Parliament has some powers to dictate policy over the member states. The Parliament’s limited governance, however, became apparent during the 2008 economic recession that created a very uneven recovery for several member states. Since the beginning of 2008, the German economy remained relatively stable and unemployment figures actually decreased between 2008-2011. Other EU-member states, however, such as Greece and Spain, saw their economies virtually collapse with unemployment still remaining around or above 25%. The pressure for nationals of less fortunate EU countries to migrate to more stable EU member economies has created a double effect – “jobs protection" backlash in more stable economies and xenophobia in less stable economies.
This year’s EU Parliament elections will be closely watched as to how individual countries choose to vote on how well the “freedom of movement” privilege within the EU has been on local economies. While freedom of movement policies are in place, each member state, such as the UK, may choose to hold national referendums if they wish to continue being a part of the EU or take measures to limit intra-EU migration. Results from other, forthcoming national elections will hold some idea of how conservative the new MEP’s may be on this issue of economic migration policies within the EU.
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