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What Now for Britain and Europe?

BRUSSELS – The surprise result of the United Kingdom’s general election, which will return Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party to power for another five years, suggests that Britain’s voters prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t. That may also apply, one hopes, to European Union membership, too. Indeed, with Cameron’s big win, the specter of a British exit from the European Union has begun to recede, though it remains unvanquished.

The question mark over the UK’s future within the EU had been widely seen throughout continental Europe as key to this election, yet it received barely any attention as a campaign issue. It posed too many awkward issues for the UK’s mainstream political parties, which pushed it aside to focus on domestic economic and social problems.

The main message of the election result is that British voters do not welcome the fragmentation of the political system and the rise of smaller parties leading to a new era of coalition governments. Though the debate about shifting to some form of proportional representation is not over, the result does suggest that the British electorate appreciates the stability of its traditional “first past the post” system, which favors the Conservative and Labour parties.

The clear loser in this election is the anti-EU UK Independence Party. Having gained remarkable popularity in the space of only a few years, UKIP threatened to alter the British political landscape. Despite gaining some 12-13% of the overall vote, its representation in the House of Commons has been halved – to just a single MP. Nigel Farage, UKIP’s charismatic leader, was denied the parliamentary seat he so desperately sought, and the party’s bandwagon appears to be slowing and perhaps going into reverse. Indeed, Farage has now resigned his party post.