Front National leader Marine Le Pen during a press conference at the party's headquarters in Nanterre. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Eurosceptics will do well in May, but the federalists will retain their grip

The parliamentary alliance between the the centre-right and the centre-left means the increase in the number of eurosceptic MEPs will have a largely symbolic effect.

Most people believe that Europe needs to integrate for the eurozone to survive. As such, the makeup of the Commission and European Parliament may be about to become rather more important than it has been previously. This is thanks in large part to the Lisbon Treaty, which has bolstered the powers of the Parliament, extending its influence over the Commission, and prompting the main European party groups to insist on selecting their own candidates for the role of Commission President (currently held by José Manuel Barroso).

The overwhelmingly pro-European profile of the European Parliament could also be about to change, with a number of new eurosceptic nationalists likely to be elected at this May's European elections. With no obvious explicit basis for banking union or financial solidarity in the existing treaties, fears are growing among the European cognoscenti that the integration process, such as it is, could be at risk of derailment by Europe’s increasingly restive electorate.

The political duopoly of the centre-left and centre-right has been eroding since the onset of the global recession in 2008 (chart 2). Since then the combined support of the big, pro-EU, pro-market parties, which have held power in most of western Europe since the 1970s, has dropped from 67 per cent to 57 per cent. The average support of "hard" eurosceptic parties, meanwhile, has jumped from 5 per cent to 14 per cent in the same period (chart 1). Both of these measures are weighted, so the rise of the Five Star Movement in Italy, or UKIP in the UK, has a far greater impact than the dwindling of Vlaams Belang in Belgium (where eurosceptics have faded).

Precise projections for seat numbers at the European elections are tricky thanks to the varied electoral systems employed by each country, but the broadly proportional nature of the overall system resulted in the 8.1 per cent that hard eurosceptic parties polled in 2009 translating to 65 or so seats (8.6 per cent of the total). Based on current trends, we can expect such parties to poll between 16 per cent and 22 per cent, which would translate to between 120 and 165 seats.

These numbers should not be construed as constituting one monolithic, eurosceptic bloc. They include parties of both the hard left and hard right who would be highly unlikely to work together. They also include neo-fascist parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik, who are shunned even by right-wing parties like France’s Front Nationale. Indeed, Front Nationale is currently taking steps to expand the eurosceptic, anti-immigration party of which it is a member, European Alliance for Freedom, but has ruled out including neo-fascist parties and has also failed to bring on board Europe’s other big eurosceptic party, UKIP. European parliamentary history is littered with attempts to construct nationalist, anti-immigration parties which eventually broke up in disagreement and recrimination. Such parties do not play well with others and their influence is less potent as a result.

So the data indicate that the centre-right and centre-left will retain their legislative grip on the European Parliament. They vote together on most of the important bills (e.g. the general budget for the European Union). It’s worth noting that there is no mechanism for small groups of recalcitrant MEPs to filibuster legislation that has majority support (as in the US). Speaking time is allotted to parties in proportion to their size and those parliamentarians who go over their allotted time are liable to being physically removed from the chamber.

There will almost certainly be a significant boost to the number of eurosceptic MEPs, but it will likely be of little more than symbolic effect. In fact, we expect it to be more or less business as usual in the European Parliament after the election dust has settled. That’s good for stability, though whether it’s a good thing for Europe long term is another matter. If the toxic mix of political inaction and high unemployment continues in, then the trends in the charts below will likely continue to deteriorate, pushing an ultimate resolution to the crisis even further beyond reach.

Chart 1: Support for eurosceptic parties on the rise, but still relatively modest

Source: ASR Ltd.

 

Chart 2: Europe’s biggest established parties are losing support

Source: ASR Ltd.

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent consultancy based in London.

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com