BLOG POST: Farage won the battle, but Cameron may win the war

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UK Chamber Head of Communications Jonathan Roberts analyses the European Parliamentary election results.

Nigel Farage promised an earthquake, and he delivered. But as the dust settles following the European Parliamentary elections, of the three establishment parties it will be the Conservatives feeling the most bullish. Despite seeing huge swathes of Tory heartlands turn purple, the Prime Minister has in many ways been vindicated by his calls for a smaller, leaner European Union that does less, has fewer powers and ends ‘ever closer union’.

The headlines have made it clear. The Liberal Democrats had a disastrous election. They were the only party campaigning on an overtly pro-European ticket, and their reduction to just one seat will tell party strategists across the country that, if they want to win elections, they can’t be pro-European. Labour has been setback heavily by beating the Conservatives by just 1% despite being only a year from a general election.

Mainstream parties across the EU had a kicking too. Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Denmark and notably France all voted for extreme anti-EU parties of both left and right hues (the French National Front leader, Marie Le Pen, makes Nigel Farage look like Karl Marx). Germany itself was not immune, with a neo-Nazi winning a seat and the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party winning seats too despite Angela Merkel’s governing coalition receiving strong backing.

In the European Parliament, not a lot will change. The European People’s Party and the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats still hold the balance of power, but they will be forced to work more closely to mitigate the influence of the new, more extreme MEPs. But this will create tensions between Members of the European Parliament, and the national parties to which they belong who bear the brunt of voter anger in domestic elections.

So across Europe, mainstream political leaders will have to find a way to make Europe work within the constraints of the message voters have sent them.

Confused and concerned, European leaders may be forced to turn to the one person who has both called for a smaller Europe all along, and has the power to help deliver it – David Cameron. His main concern will be that, with a year to go before the election, his power to deliver his pledges on Europe will hit their peak just as he may lose his power to run the country.

The Prime Minister will know that the reasons why so many people voted UKIP are varied. They naturally picked up many protest votes that traditionally have gone to the Liberal Democrats, and they won support from disaffected Labour communities as well as many former Conservatives. But what unites those voters is that Nigel Farage has told them it’s OK to feel the way they do. Mainstream parties have long ignored concerns over immigration and the influence Europe has over our daily lives. Then Farage came along saying the things they say, feeling the things they feel, and the atmosphere was ripe to give the establishment a kicking. If David Cameron is to win a General Election, improving economic statistics are not enough. He will have to find a way to prove his pledges on Europe will have tangible outcomes. No small ask.

But he does have support from industry. Despite 80% of shipping industry leaders saying they wanted to remain in the EU in a poll earlier this month, 67% said that the Prime Minister was right to renegotiate powers from Brussels and 68% said that the European Commission had too much power. Similar noises have been made from other industries in both the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

So with the electorate, business and, finally, politicians, calling for fundamental reform to the European Union, the new college of Commissioner will have to listen. If they don’t, then the very existence of the EU could be put at risk.

In our poll. 64% said that the founding principle of ‘ever closer union’ as set out in the Treaty of Rome, should be scrapped. Some pro-Europeans have argued that this principle is nothing more than symbolic. But those in our industry know it is fundamental to how the Commission works.

So now is the not the time for ‘business as usual’. The European Commission has long been criticised for a perceived disrespect for democracy – now is the time for it to prove it is capable, and willing, to respect the will of the citizens it claims to serve.

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