Europe votes: reform moves up the agenda but withdrawal remains an isolationist dream

All parties are failing to articulate a clear vision for Britain’s relationship with the EU.

All parties are failing to articulate a clear vision for Britain’s relationship with the EU

The picture portrayed by Monday’s media was ‘we want out’. However, the popular vote relays a far more nuanced message.

The results show that the electorate is confused. UKIP did indeed top the polls, though their lead was somewhat underwhelming; just 2 per cent more than Labour. The Tories came a close third.

What this demonstrates is that all parties are failing to articulate a clear vision for Britain’s relationship with the EU that citizens can buy into. Turnout hovered around 34 per cent, meaning that, in reality, just 9 per cent of the electorate voted UKIP.

This is hardly the surge to the right that most of the media are proclaiming. As recent YouGov polls show, this does not mean that Britain is on track for a Brexit. What this does mean is that an undecided electorate are awaiting a more decisive trajectory for Britain’s role in the world.

This sentiment is not unique to Britain. Across the EU Eurosceptic parties failed to triumph. Despite the Front National’s gains in France, anti-EU parties in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany all struggled to make significant headway. Italy’s Five Star movement and Hungary’s Jobbik both failed to take first place, despite high expectations.

The outlook is nowhere near as bleak as has been reported; it is by no means a victory for EU-outers. The defining message is one of discontentment and disenchantment with the status quo, rather than the abandonment of the EU project across the board.

The next few months will test the EU’s mettle. Bargaining between political groups in the European Parliament will define the legislative ambitions of the incoming parliament. Member States’ governments will begin the haggling process which will determine the EU’s top jobs over the next five years. Despite sceptics’ predictions that an ‘ever closer union’ will be pursued unabashed, the likelihood is that the approach will be one of moderation and considered reform.

The biggest political group in the EU, the centre right European People’s Party, has lost an estimated 8 per cent of its voteshare. It would be foolish to take this lightly. Political groups now have be sensitive to the election results and respond to the electorate. The agenda should be one of cautious optimism; the elections present a clear mandate for reform. The new Commissioner will have to be bold and deliver this with vision and conviction.

The diagnosis is clear; the status quo does not and will not suffice. The past five years have been dominated by economic woes amid the global financial crisis. Yet the debate surrounding the EU continues to be defined by the position of the political establishment. It continues to be plagued by the Big Three’s stance on an In/Out referendum.

This is a false dichotomy. The real message from this election is that it is the substance of Britain’s relationship with the EU that needs to be discussed thoroughly and extensively across all fora in society.

An ambitious vision for Britain’s leading role in the EU should be coupled with a thorough evaluation of what the EU can offer us; a leading role in climate change negotiations, a platform to promote human rights across the world and the creation of more jobs through completing the Single Market.

To continue on the current track framed by public discourse not only seriously hampers the legitimacy of our relationship with the EU but also Britain’s ability to shape EU policy in line with British interests. The sobering wake up call the election offers is an opportunity for the UK to reengage with this debate rather than abandon Britain’s leadership role in Europe for ever more.

Rachel Franklin is research and campaign manager at British Influence. Find out more about the campaign to keep Britain in the EU here or follow the campaign on Twitter

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