The Roots and Consequences of Euroskepticism: An Evaluation of the United Kingdom Independence Party

By Sutcliffe, John B. | Geopolitics, History and International Relations, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Roots and Consequences of Euroskepticism: An Evaluation of the United Kingdom Independence Party


Sutcliffe, John B., Geopolitics, History and International Relations


ABSTRACT.

This article examines the causes and consequences of Euroskepticism through a study of the United Kingdom Independence Party. Based on an analysis of UKIP's election campaigns, policies and performance, the article examines the roots of UKIP and its, potential, consequences for the British political system. The article argues that UKIP provides an example of Euroskepticism as the "politics of opposition." The party remains at the fringes of the political system and its leadership is prepared to use misrepresentation and populist rhetoric in an attempt to secure support. The party, nevertheless, cannot be completely dismissed as a marginal force. Its roots lie in the general popular and elite antipathy towards the European Union and it has shown itself capable of attracting considerable electoral support in European Parliament elections. It also has the potential to influence the policies of the major political parties.

Keywords: Euroskepticism, political parties, Europe, Britain

1. Introduction

Across the European Union (EU) there has been a prominent and increasingly studied rise in critical attitudes towards integration. While criticism of European integration has always existed to varying extents in different states, the two decades since the debates surrounding the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty have witnessed a more widespread and vocal skepticism about the benefits of the European Union. This skepticism was evident in the 2005 referendums in France and the Netherlands that saw the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty and in the 2008 Irish referendum rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. It has also been evident in the rise of Euroskeptical political parties and existing, often populist, parties adopting Euroskeptical positions as part of their political platform. In many EU member states, these political parties enjoyed significant electoral success in both the 2004 and 2009 European Parliamentary elections. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), for example, which was established in 1994 with the avowed goal of removing the United Kingdom from the European Union, returned 13 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in the 2009 elections and placed second, ahead of the governing Labor Party.

Alongside the development of critical attitudes towards the European Union have come academic studies attempting to understand and explain the causes and possible implications of Euroskepticism (see, for example, Szczerbiak and Taggart 2008; Forster 2002; McLaren 2006; Taylor 2008). Diversity exists within this literature. Some commentators argue that Euroskepticism is a reflection of the maturation of the European Union's political system, with criticism developing as citizens become more aware of the policy decisions made at the EU level (see Hix 2008). Others, including some national leaders and governing parties, suggest that many critics do not fully understand what they are criticizing (see "Who Cares about Europe" 2008). A different view is that Euroskeptical attitudes are frequently adopted by political parties at the fringes of their national political systems as part of the "politics of opposition" (see Mair 2001; Sitter 2001). There is also diversity evident in analyses of the potential consequences of Euroskepticism. Some scholars see Euroskepticism as being marginal to existing party systems (Harmsen and Spiering 2004, 3 1-32; Taggart and Szczerbiak 2008a) while others see it as a potential party realigning issue (Kriesi 2007).

This article analyzes the question of the causes and consequences of Euroskepticism in one national context through a focus on the United Kingdom Independence Party's policies, its election campaign platforms (particularly its 2009 European Parliament election platform and 2010 general election platform), its leadership, and its election results. The intention is to explain the roots of UKIP' s criticism of the European Union and its place within the United Kingdom. …

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