The current economic crisis has served to galvanize oppositions to the European Union (EU) as evidenced by the electoral success of Eurosceptic parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Front National in France and most recently, the Alternative For Germany party.

There are qualitative differences of Euroscepticism which can be subsumed in two categories or forms:

1. ‘Hard’ or ‘withdrawalist’ euroscepticism is the opposition to membership or the existence of the EU. This ‘can be seen in parties who think their countries should withdraw from membership, or whose policies toward the EU are tantamount to being opposed to the whole project of European integration as it is currently conceived’. The European Parliament’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, which includes the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), is hard eurosceptic.

2.‘Soft’ or ‘reformist’ euroscepticism supports the existence of the EU and membership to the Union, but opposes further integrationist EU policies and the idea of a federal Europe. It can therefore be observed ‘where concerns on one (or a number) of the policy areas leads to the expression of qualified opposition to the EU, or where there is a sense that ‘national interest’ is currently at odds with the EU’s trajectory’ . The European Conservatives and Reformists group, including the British Conservative Party and the European United Left-Nordic Green Left alliance, can be described as soft eurosceptics.

If sovereignty is understood as the capacity of the people to decide what they want for their country, few in either the north or the south today feel that they are sovereign. A substantial part of democracy has vanished at the national level but it has not been recreated at the European level. While it is true that the financial crisis has enhanced Euroscepticism, it is unwisely to think that once economic growth starts to pick up in the Eurozone, this movement will recede. As The European Council on Foreign Relations remarks ‘the collapse of trust in the EU runs deeper than that’ and enthusiasm for the European project ‘will not return unless the EU profoundly changes the way it deals with its member states and citizens’.

This is a sentiment shared by many pro-European experts in Europe who are warning about the critical point that the EU has reached and the necessity of a discussion on its objectives. This observation is important in so far as critique and opposition to the present stage of development exists, which sees the shortcomings of the EU not as a result of excessive integration but rather as a consequence of an insufficiently far-reaching and unfinished process. Usually, these voices belong to the pro-European side of the public debate.

Eurosceptic Organizations in Europe

  • TEAM : The European alliance of EU-critical movements: TEAM is an umbrella organisation of Eurosceptic or EU-critical associations from 18 European countries. It includes 49 organisations, parties and non-partisan groups of the whole political spectrum. They have united under the belief that the building of a European super-state, with its centralisation and federalisation of decision-making and monetary policies, weakens the nation-state and is happening without the consent of the EU member states’ citizens.
  • The Freedom Association: Founded in the United Kingdom in 1975, TFA is a libertarian pressure group campaigning for individual freedom, personal and family responsibility, the rule of law, limited government, free market economy, national parliamentary democracy and strong national defences. It runs the campaign ‘Better off out’ supporting a British withdrawal from the EU.
  • The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre: The National Platform is a research and information group based in Dublin. It was founded after the Irish referendum on the Single European Act in 1987 and is currently chaired by Anthony Coughlan. The group around Coughlan appealed to the Irish Supreme Courts in 1986 for clarification on the competencies to ratify Treaties. The Court ruled in 1987 that EU Treaties have to be ratified by popular referendum.

Eurosceptic thinktanks

  • Open Europe: Open Europe is a Eurosceptic thinktank founded by British business people with offices in London and Brussels. It does not advocate a UK withdrawal from the European Union but it campaigns for ‘radical reform based on economic liberalisation, a looser and more flexible structure, and greater transparency and accountability’.
  • Bruges Group: The Bruges Group is a Eurosceptic all-party thinktank based in the United Kingdom, founded in 1989. It strongly opposes further European integration and campaigns for a complete restructuring of Britain’s relationship with other European countries.
  • European Foundation: This British Eurosceptical thinktank was founded by John Goldsmith, the former leader of the British Referendum Party, and is chaired by Bill Cash, a Conservative MP. It does not advocate a withdrawal from the EU but campaigns for a ‘thoroughgoing reform’.
  • Centrum für Europäische Politik (CEP): The Centrum für Europäische Politik (Centre for European Politics) is a subsidiary of the Stiftung Ordnungspolitik (Foundation for Ordo-liberal Politics) based in Freiburg, Germany. While it encourages an open European domestic market it opposes the centralisation of European decision making. It aims to limit bureaucracy and regulation to a necessary degree and strengthen the political control of national parliaments.

Transnational Eurosceptic parties and political groups

  • EUDemocrats (EUD): The EUDemocrats (EUD) – ‘Alliance for a Europe of Democracies’ – is a Eurosceptic alliance of parties, movements and individuals from 15 European countries. It covers the political spectrum from centre-left to centre-right and campaigns for more transparency, subsidiarity, democracy and diversity within the European apparatus. It was involved in the European Referendum Campaign aiming for a Europe-wide referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
  • Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD): EFD is a right-wing, Eurosceptic political group in the European Parliament, formed after the 2009 EU Parliament elections. It consists mostly of former members of the now defunct European parliamentary groups Independence/Democracy and Union for a Europe of Nations. It rejects European bureaucracy and further European integration. Convinced that there is no such thing as a single European people, it regards the nation state and its parliament as the only legitimate level of democratic power.
  • European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECRG): The ECRG is a Conservative, Eurosceptic and anti-federalist political group in the European Parliament, founded after the 2009 EU Parliament elections. Its origins can be traced via the Movement for European Reform, formed as an interim group outside the EU Parliament for the European Democrats group within the European People's Party. Its policies include support for a sovereign nation state, free trade and competition, small government and the family as the bedrock of society. It opposes EU federalism and bureaucracy as well as further European integration.

Eurocritical media

  • EUObserver: An independent online newspaper founded in 2000, EUObserver reports on the debate on and the development of European affairs. The publication focuses on human rights, transparency, anti-corruption, environmentalism and the democratisation of the EU. Thereby it distinguishes itself from pro-European coverage such as EurActiv. Lisbeth Kirk, founder and publisher of EUObserver, is the wife of Jens-Peter Bonde, a former Danish MEP who co-chaired the ‘Independence and Democracy’ group of Eurocritical MEPs in the European Parliament.
  • The Brussels Journal: The Brussels based conservative blog reports on the politics of Belgium and the European Union. It was founded in 2005 by the Flemish journalist Paul Belien and is published by the Swiss non-profit organisation Society for the Advancement of Freedom in Europe (SAFE). It claims to present matters differently from what it calls the ‘consensus-media’ of Europe and regards the European Parliament as unaccountable and undemocratic.

Euroscepticism is also performed through the mass media. Its performance is primarily targeted to draw attention. To receive this attention, Eurosceptic narratives must achieve news value and therefore dramatize . These narratives are typically constructed around the distinction between friend and foe, between true friends and false friends, between assumed perpetrators and real perpetrators that dramatize the stories, make them publicly salient and provoke societal resonance . As a consequence, the media, especially the private media sector, holds considerable power to shape public opinion by choosing and editing the information available to its audience. Incidents, commonly termed Euromyths, of press publications containing hearsay, rumours and half-truth are frequent and some of them have been repeated so often that they have entered public consciousness.

For the European Commission, as well as for national governments, the struggle to rectify these myths and overcome false public prejudices requires constant vigilance, and still might prove impossible to overcome. As a result, the media can have a decisive impact on national politics, especially during election times or prior to public referenda.


Add new comment