The recent European Parliament elections confirmed the extent of European citizens’ concern over the continuing effects of the economic crisis across the European Union and the uneven pace of economic recovery. While increased support for eurosceptic parties and, more worryingly, parties with extreme views on some issues, is a cause of considerable concern, that support varies greatly across Member States and should not be overstated. A sizeable majority of voters registered their support for pro-EU parties, thus ensuring that they will continue to represent the largest political groups in the new European Parliament.
I have discussed the outcome of the elections and its implications with EU counterparts on a number of occasions. On 27 May, the Taoiseach joined other EU Heads of State and Government in Brussels to discuss the significance of the results for the way the EU functions and how it is perceived. He stressed there, as I have stressed in my own meetings with EU colleagues, that our immediate focus must be on addressing the concerns raised by Europe’s citizens and that this will best be achieved by prioritising measures to speed up economic recovery and spur job creation across the EU, including through the completion of Banking Union, deepening of the single market, and the negotiation of free trade agreements with external partners.
I am pleased that these priorities were at the centre of the strategic agenda agreed at last week’s European Council meeting. This sets out what the EU should focus on and how it should function, identifying five overarching priorities which will guide the work of the European Union over the next five years: stronger economies with more jobs; societies enabled to empower and protect; a secure energy and climate future; a trusted area of fundamental freedoms; and effective joint action in the world.
In delivering on this agenda, above all in working to support employment growth, I believe the European Union will reaffirm its value and importance to our citizens. This, more than anything else, represents the best counterargument to populist euroscepticism.