The successes of right-wing populists could indeed exacerbate the smoldering euro crisis. Tensions between the wealthy countries in the north, who are contributing most to the bailouts, and the ailing debtor nations in the periphery already threaten to destroy the monetary union. If a European version of the American Tea Party movement develops, it could very well become the kiss of death for the euro.

The risk is substantial, as euroskeptics gain ground across the EU. In Denmark, the xenophobic Danish People's Party has supported a center-right minority government for almost 10 years. In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is dependent on the goodwill of right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders, who, with his tirades against Islam and the EU, captured 15.5 percent of the vote in the country's last parliamentary election. In Sweden, the nationalist, anti-European Sweden Democrats crossed the 4-percent threshold to gain seats in the parliament, the Riksdag, and in Italy Umberto Bossi's xenophobic Lega Nord, or Northern League, is even part of the government. Although the party is primarily active in the north of Italy, it is the third-strongest party on the national level.

Only in the core European countries of Germany and France has opposition to the EU long been restricted to marginal groups. In both Berlin and Paris, a strong commitment to Europe has traditionally been considered part of the national interest and was something that transcended party lines.