Euroscepticism is rising on the Continent, but is it enough to aid Cameron's renegotiation?
By Mark Wallace
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First, a poll by Ifop for the French newspaper La Croix shows rising opposition to Brussels. Their findings are that:
"In Spain, 37 percent of respondents said EU membership was a bad thing, up from 26 percent in June 2012, rising to 43 percent in France (from 38 percent), 44 percent in eurozone powerhouse Germany (from 36 percent) and 45 percent in Italy (from 39 percent)."
Following hard on their heels is Open Europe, who have polled German voters to find:
"Strong support for devolving powers from the EU to member states: By a margin of two to one (50% in favour, 26% against), German voters say the next German Chancellor should back the efforts by some European politicians to decentralise powers from the EU to the national, regional or local level."
German euroscepticism seems increasingly deep-seated, over a number of policy areas
The European Parliament and the EU Commission are also viewed as the two most untrustworthy institutions by German voters - further testimony to the stereotype of teutonic common sense.
This has potentially interesting connotations for David Cameron's renegotiation. I've long been sceptical of his chances for success (particularly given the woeful Balance of Competences review), but the new polling suggests widespread sympathy among European electorates for his position.
Take Germany for example:
The difficulty in practice is that European countries suffer the same disease as Britain - namely that the scepticism of the people is severely under-represented in the political class. The emergent eurosceptic movement on the Continent has few parliamentary and almost no governmental voice, and the EU renegotiation will take place with those in government, not the people.
Of course, that could change if the established parties in the core EU nations feel that the rise of the sceptics is a political threat at home. In that circumstance they would have a self-interested reason to accede to British demands.
Right on cue, just such a threat has appeared in Germany. As my colleague Andrew Gimson writes in The Times (£) today, the AfD - a party which argues for the dissolution of the Euro, and whose leader supports Cameron's proposal for a renegotiation - may be on the cusp of winning Bundestag seats only months afer it was founded.
There are no guarantees. The threshold to win seats is 5 per cent, and the AfD are currently polling at 4, but German pollsters fear they are underestimating their vote due to the hard to reach nature of the voters involved and the stigma that hangs around supporting an insurgent party.
Of course, even if the AfD do score a good result on Sunday, Merkel may shrug them off once the election is over and carry on as normal - it isn't unheard of for politicians to say one thing about the EU before polling day and do another once the votes are in the bag.
The political and economic failure of the European project is starting not only to sway the European electorates, and it seems popular scepticism is starting to seep into the seats of power, as it has eventually done in Westminster.
The question is, will it happen on a large enough scale and in a short enough time to give Cameron allies in the renegotiation? Reinforcements may be coming, but the speed of their arrival dictates whether he turns out to be General Custer or the Duke of Wellington.