Depending on which countries you focus on, this weekend’s European Parliament elections represented either a general setback for the traditional pro-EU parties of the center, or a scary upsurge of far-right parties. Yes, these elections are traditionally low-turnout affairs (though at 43%, turnout was about like a typical U.S. midterm election) where many voters feel free to indulge themselves in anti-status-quo gestures. But this was something special.
The most unsettling results for most observers involved the first-place finishes of UKIP in Britain and the National Front in France, each with a bit over a quarter of the total vote. The UKIP triumph, compounding its simultaneous (but earlier announced) success in local council races, will at a minimum greatly complicate the runup to the expected 2015 general election. Prime Minister David Cameron will be under intense pressure now to rhetorically if not formally lean away from its governing coalition partner the strongly pro-Europe Lib Dems (who had a catastrophic meltdown of support in the European Parliament elections) and towards UKIP.
Supporting the interpretation of the European results as a rejection of austerian EU policies rather than a lurch back towards the early-middle twentieth century, Euroskeptic parties of the left did quite well in Italy and Greece. The most likely practical effect in the EU itself will be a displacement of the governing Socialist-led center-left coalition by a center-right coalition. So talk of an “earthquake” in this election will be muffled a bit by the time the aftershocks subside in Brussels. But these are perilous times for the European project.