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Don’t Fear the Euroskeptics

Although the European Union is arguably as popular as ever, the next European Parliament may well contain a large minority of forces skeptical or hostile to further integration. Instead of viewing this as a threat, pro-Europeans should seize the opportunity to start a necessary debate about the continent’s future.

BRUSSELS – As the European Parliament elections draw closer, most opinion polls predict a strong showing by parties that declare themselves Euroskeptic to varying degrees. But their likely success represents an unsurprising backlash against recent European integration, rather than opposition to the European Union itself.

After all, Euroskeptic or “Euro-hostile” parties are nothing new. They also had a large presence in the first directly elected European Parliament back in 1979, when the EU was known as the European Economic Community (EEC) – or the “Common Market” – and consisted of only nine member states.

In addition to being far smaller than today’s 28-member EU, the EEC did much less. Even calling it a common market now seems an exaggeration, because member states had agreed only on a customs union with a common external tariff and external trade policy. Within the EEC, there were still customs checks on goods and passport controls, and many member states prohibited capital exports.

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