World / Europe

EU-wide elections could roil the bloc

By Agencies in Frankfurt, Germany and London (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-23 07:10

Several European countries' commitment to the painful economic reforms meant to cut debt and foster growth could be shaken by this week's elections to the European Parliament, which are likely to see anti-EU parties buoyed by protest votes against austerity.

Elections kicked off on Thursday in Britain as millions of people flocked to polling stations to decide who can represent them in the European legislature.

A total of 73 members of the European Parliament are up for grabs in Britain based on the proportional representation voting mechanism.

While the Parliament headquartered in Strasbourg, France, has only limited powers, the outcome of the voting from Thursday to Sunday for 751 deputies in 28 countries could shake up politics back at the national level. Parties that are against greater integration among European Union countries or advocate leaving the EU are expected to get up to 30 percent of the seats.

"The results in France, Italy and Greece will be very important as they could again derail national politics and policies, giving rise to renewed discussions and controversies about austerity, reforms and debt sustainability," said analyst Carsten Brzeski at ING.

Indebted governments are trying to hold down spending and, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, make their economies more business-friendly by clearing away excess regulation, taxation and protections for established workers.

While those efforts - along with easy monetary policy from the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve - have helped calm markets, the budget cutbacks and tax increases have also hurt the incomes of ordinary people in the shorter term, raising unemployment and slowing the recovery.

Past elections have been snoozers, especially since the parliament can't itself initiate legislation and is confined to reviewing and amending proposals from the European Commission, the EU's executive branch. Economists caution that the impact on the parliament itself is likely to be limited as anti-EU forces will remain in the minority and have struggled to coordinate their policies.

The key is at the national level, they say.

Here's what's at stake in some of the most important countries.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is trying to get a stagnant economy moving, pushing unpopular spending cuts so he can lower business taxes. A poor showing by the Socialists in the European Parliament vote could undermine backing from the more left-wing members of his own party and make it harder for him to achieve his aims.

France's economy, Europe's second-largest, failed to grow in the first quarter, one reason the continent's recovery is so muted.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of the center-left Democratic Party faces his first major electoral test since taking office in February. Renzi is trying to shake up Italy's bloated bureaucracy and reform its cumbersome electoral laws.

"His opponents, both within and outside his own party, could use a poor result to water down his reform efforts," says James Howat, European economist for Capital Economics.


(China Daily 05/23/2014 page11)

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