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Rise of extremist MEPs could delay European reforms - Pat Cox

Former European Parliament president expects Juncker to be ‘effective’ commission president

Pat Cox: “Creeping scepticism and declining public support for Brussels can spill over into the political mainstream by way of increased prudence and caution in taking new initiatives.”

The growth in the number of populist and extremist MEPs in the European Parliament could delay urgently needed legislative reform on critical issues, former European Parliament president Pat Cox has warned.

Mr Cox said while last May’s European elections were marked by the lowest-ever turnout at 42.54 per cent across Europe, indicating a degree of apathy, they were also notable for revealing “a level of anger and disillusionment”.

“Old and emerging populist forces of the left and right, including extremists have gained ground and taken seats,” he told the 44th annual conference of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies at University College Cork. “Populists in the European Parliament have a record of being less organised, less cohesive in voting terms and often less interested in the day-to day grind of parliamentary work and procedures. This is not to say that they may have no influence,” he said.

Migrant deaths

“Creeping scepticism and declining public support for Brussels can spill over into the political mainstream by way of increased prudence and caution in taking new initiatives,” he told the forum hosted by the Department of Government at UCC. “It also obliges the squeezed political centre to work more assiduously to construct legislative majorities. On critical issues such as immigration and the endless deaths in the Mediterranean, this could immobilise the urgent need for reform.”

Mr Cox said this year’s continuing decline in turnout in European Parliament elections was also a cause for concern, particularly when it came to the parliament having a mandate for reform and change.

“In spite of enhanced power and influence, the European Parliament’s popular legitimacy remains challenged by the failure to arrest or reverse the trend in declining turnout,” he told the 470 people attending the four-day conference.

Turnout rates

“As usual there are wide variations in turnout, with Belgium, where voting is mandatory, registering an 89.6 per cent turnout, to Slovakia, which has set a new low even by its own past standards, at 13 per cent.”

Mr Cox said 10 member states showed some increase in voting while 18 had declines in voter participation with general turnout in each member state being on a par with local or regional elections in them.

Mr Cox said he expected the new European Commission president, Jean Claude Juncker, to be effective in the post.

“Jean Claude Juncker is a consummate European insider having been prime minister of Luxembourg for 18 years from 1995 to 2013 and president of the euro group of finance ministers for eight years from 2005 to 2013. No European leader, Helmut Kohl included, has had such a long and unbroken involvement at the highest European level . . .”

He added that Mr Juncker’s longevity owed much to him being a pragmatist rather than an ideologue.