EU elections: The louder the threats and the doomsaying the heavier the weight of the vote

European Parliament. During the election evenings, projections of the composition of the new Parliament, based on latest available exit polls and estimates, will be presented to the media. As soon as voting is concluded in all EU countries, pan-EU results will be also made available. (EP Audiovisual Services, 14-05-2014).

European Parliament. During the election evenings, projections of the composition of the new Parliament, based on latest available exit polls and estimates, will be presented to the media. As soon as voting is concluded in all EU countries, pan-EU results will be also made available. (EP Audiovisual Services, 14-05-2014).

All mainstream political leaders of Europe in the socialist camp, the liberals and the center-right parties, invariably exorcise nationalism and populism, as the gravest threats to the EU project. They are quite right to do so. It’s not only the future of the EU which is at stake. Nationalism and populism already threaten the very democratic institutions within a number of European countries, with Hungary being the worst example. Elsewhere in Europe, and more importantly in core countries like France, Germany, England and Italy, some once marginal or recently hatched groups, are now ahead in public opinion polls or mark impressive ratings.

Undeniably, the European elections of 22-25 May can turn out an ugly epitome of the current political reality. No wonder why everybody agrees that the entire political system of Europe is under heavy pressure that may worsen. However, many analysts indicate that the dangerous political off-springs of the economic crisis will gradually disappear when unemployment starts to recede. But the risk is that, in the between, the EU edifice, along with democratic institutions in some member states, may be seriously distressed or definitively afflicted.

The three options that aren’t

As Henri Malosse, the President of the European Economic and Social Committee solemnly puts it, three obvious options for Europe all lead to dead ends. Dissolving the EU and returning to inter-governmentalism means ending the European dream… or maintaining the status quo and keep semi-alive, semi-dead an incomplete Europe will soon lead to self-destruction and thirdly rushing ahead towards the federal model may prove fallacious. In this last case Malosse adds that, “Why would anyone agree to entrust more powers to institutions that have proved unable to listen to Europeans or take their views into account?”

Of course Malosse has an answer. He proposes that “There is another way, however, that would involve using economic and social forces to identify and consolidate our common interests and, on that foundation, build policies that build mutual solidarity”. What he fails to say though is that, in order to mobilise the social and political forces needed for building policies which solidify mutual solidarity between the EU countries, the next European election has to turn out the necessary results.

There are more ways to arrive at this conclusion, but in any case this European election is completely different and may hide unpleasant surprises. It’s not that this time the electorate has a say in choosing the next President of the Commission. A lot more than this is at stake. Not without good reason Malosse believes, that even the degradation of the EU into an intergovernmental affair, is a possibility.

The egg of the serpent

Undoubtedly then, this election may be incubating real threats for Europe coming from extremists of any kind, Eurosceptics, chauvinists, populists and harlequins. The risks are so great that the French President Francois Hollande felt obliged to warn his compatriots that an “Exit from Europe is exit from the history”. He actually wrote a desperate sounding article in “Le Monde”, only two weeks ahead of the European Elections. Hollande is badly cornered and faces a grave political challenge. Marine Le Pen, the leader of National Front extreme right, racist and Eurosceptic party, currently leading the race in polls, threatens to actually destroy the euro, by pulling France out from the euro area.

Hollande is not alone to face grave political challenges. In Britain the Eurosceptic UKIP party of Nigel Farage also leads in polls, leaving the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron in the third place behind the Labour Party. In Greece, the SYRIZA left wing political formation by questioning the value of euro shares the first place in polls with the governing New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. In Italy the Five Star Movement under Beppe Grillo, a comedian in every respect, is only second to the governing Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party. In Germany the newcomer Eurosceptic, Alternative for Germany gains momentum. No wonder why a lot of people in Brussels and the other core European capitals are quite alarmed.

A hit below the belt from the US

As if all that were not enough to put a lot of gray on Europe’s political future, the former US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, published this week a book tarnishing Europe’s recent political past. He says that George Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi were both quite undemocratically forced by Brussels, Berlin and Paris to resign their premierships of Greece and Italy in November 2011. In reality, Geithner ‘reveals’ something that at the time every European intuitively understood and was widely discussed in the Press.

Towards the end of 2011, both Papandreou and Berlusconi, in order to protect their personal political future, refused to apply the necessary unpopular economic measures needed to save their countries from bankruptcies. If Greece and Italy were to go bust, the then quite unprepared Eurozone, would have been briefly and uncontrollably disintegrated, with unpredictable consequences for all the other member states. Now Geithner found the opportunity, only days ahead of the European election, to denounce the ‘undemocratic practices’ of the European Union.

The former US Treasury Secretary had also a few bad things to say about the first Obama administration he had served for many difficult years. He accuses the American President of making him say things he didn’t believe in. He forgets though to add that he could have resigned. In any case, Geithner is throwing stones to mainstream European politicians at a sensitive moment for the Old Continent, ahead of a crucial election. Understandably his motives seem quite dark.

It works both ways

Summing up all that, it becomes clear that this European election is crucial not only for the EU itself but for the entire world. It appears though, that from a more distanced point of view, this election despite the risks it contains and the problems it may produce, at the same time strengthens the feeling that the EU Peoples and countries are increasingly affecting each other. The 766 Members of the European Parliament would be elected for by more than 350 million of citizens of legal age.

The intensive publicity though, over all those issues and the centrifuge tendencies seems to create a feeling, albeit week, that their vote will affect not only them and their country but other Peoples and member states too and the EU in its totality. It’s the first time that a European election acquires such a special significance and even the widespread disenchantment strengthens the feeling of ‘all in one boat’.

All in all, the louder the clamor about the risks and the problems that this election may bring about, the clearer and clearer becomes the feeling of the special weight of the vote.

 

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