With Brexit, ‘Euroskepticism Arrives: Marginal No More’


In light of the raging debates over the causes and consequences of the UK’s Brexit vote, it is worth revisiting two prescient and illuminating essays from the Journal of Democracy.

The European Union should deconstitutionalize the issue of central versus local power by abandoning the dogma of “more Europe” and making it possible to advocate fewer powers for Brussels without thereby having to become anti-EU, argued Joao Carlos Espada, the founder and director of the Institute for Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal. Mainstream parties in Europe must be willing to host views that favor decentralization. Britain’s desire for a renegotiation of its status within the EU should be treated as an opportunity to put greater flexibility into EU political life, with the voluntary nature of the EU reinforced “so that the EU structure becomes even more supple and open to different choices by national parliaments,”  he wrote in The Missing Debate:

As Timothy Garton Ash remarked the better part of two decades ago, “A process that aims at getting rid of the bad old European habit of competing among nation-states runs the risk of speeding up the return of those bad old habits. Press the ‘fast-forward’ button and the result could be ‘fast-rewind.’”…..But there remain immense liberal-democratic energies within the EU that can, if unleashed, tame the worrying elements of extremism. Liberal-democratic forces should be wary of any impulse to press the “fast-forward button,” however. They should instead mobilize good old liberal-democratic traditions in order to avoid “unfortunate dichotomies” and to allow more room, not less, for normal, gentle, peaceful political conflict. RTWT

The root cause of the rise of Euroskeptic parties – such as the French National Front (FN), the British UKIP, True Finns, and the Danish People’s Party – is the disintegration of the EU narrative of “ever closer union,” argued Liubomir Topaloff, associate professor of politics at Meiji University, Tokyo, and author of Political Parties and Euroscepticism (2012).  is with various failing polices and the recent eurocrisis serving as the intermediate and precipitating causes. The essay also makes the argument that some of the Euroskeptic parties are no longer “marginal,” but have “graduated” into the mainstream European political ecology and they “have a real chance to make an impact at both the national and European levels,” he predicted in Marginal No More.

What explains Euroskepticism’s recent surge? Topaloff asked:

In the first place, it has happened simply because Europe is democratic: In a democratic Europe, a project such as the EU—long an affair designed and run by elites—cannot forever be conducted behind closed doors, largely separate from the rough and tumble of freewheeling democratic debate. It has also happened because there is a new strain of opinion in Europe on which political entrepreneurs (the people who found parties and build careers on them) can draw. For all its shiny technocratic institutions, the EU rests deep down on the basic human emotions of hope and fear. Specifically, it grew out of the hopes and fears of a generation of Europeans who lived through the terrible traumas of the twentieth century—a time of genocide, global wars, and tyrannical threats to human freedom at whose bloody epicenter lay a battered and ravaged Europe. In this sense, the rise of Euroskepticism is an expression of the passing of the post–Second World War order, which institutionalized the fear of another war and coupled it with hope for a better future (at least in the material sense).

European elites must also acknowledge that the rise of Euroskepticism is a clear manifestation of the EU’s democratization—and a genuine response to the EU’s much-discussed “democratic deficit,” he concludes.


HT: Phil Costopoulos

The JOD is published by the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies.

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