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Toward the european elections

Rome, 20/03/2019, National Roundtable

Europe is finally being put to the vote. Of course, the parties of individual nations will continue to count, and national issues will hold a certain importance for citizens called to the polls.  But in the end what will be at stake is a new idea of Europe, because this time, and as never before, the European construction is going to be judged politically. A bitter confrontation is expected between two political macro-areas – one more traditional, comprised of the extended democratic and socialist families, and one more recent in origin consisting of groups that take their cue from populist and sovereignist models. In essence, this potentially divisive vote is predicted to be more animated than any before it. 

Pre-vote analyses show that the majority of traditional parties should withstand the backlash of sovereignism and populism, but not without some difficulty and, above all, still with a major challenge to face. If something has, indeed, gone awry in Europe in the past, it is going to be up to the new leadership not only to recognize this but to come up with innovative, reformist ideas and act on them. If, as recent data and surveys predict, traditional parties do manage to continue to govern, they are not going to be able to do so alone; they will have to be open to coalitions with greens and liberals, who have recently been gaining ground. The populist and sovereignist front, emerging strong and healthy, will not just be putting up the façade of an opposition but will be highly motivated to create obstacles and fight its battles.

Some maintain that the vote should also produce a “qualitative” rebalancing rather than a quantitative one, such as, for example, the EPP’s eventual shift to ultraconservative positions. In the case of a coalition with the liberals and greens, there could be some, albeit not substantial, changes in planning ideas and implementation. The issue of Brexit is not a secondary one. Will the English be participating in the 26 May elections? If this does happen, it will be to the advantage of the socialists, who will have the additional consensus of the English Labour Party. On the other hand, if the UK does not participate in the vote there will obviously be a quantitative repositioning and reconsideration of the weight of various countries.  

It should not be forgotten, however, that over the years the percentage of voters has fallen significantly, down to its most recent 42%, and the electorate’s composition has changed profoundly: with ideologies now dead, the vote has become unpredictable and mutable, focused on objectives and problem-solving without there being a clear political framework or adherence to one specific cultural area rather than another.

Whichever way it goes, the Parliament will be a weaker one, and this will make appointing the president of the Commission, the commissioners, ECB president and the high commissioner for foreign and defence policy not an easy task. With such a parliament, in which the placement of some groups – Italy’s 5-Star Movement and Northern League, for instance – is still unclear, the risk of failure could be lurking around the corner. This potential, and not even all that improbable, scenario is the result of two essential shortcomings: the absence of truly transnational European parties, and the fact that European policy is still considered foreign and not internal policy, i.e. policies made their own by the various EU member states. This is a setting in which the role played by nations remains strategic. In the end, it will fall to governments to propose their candidates for the Commission and presidency; thus, once again, the intergovernmental method will prevail because Europe lacks a complete vision, be it federal or confederal.

Europe, like a good portion of the rest of the world, has become a laboratory where it is going to be necessary to make decisions that respond to an ever-increasing demand for security, protection, identity, border defence and stronger economic growth. All demands that European citizens are voicing with vehemence, regardless of their political leanings, and that are going to count for a lot at the polls. The electoral campaign has begun and it should be interesting to see if and how the parties – traditional or otherwise – respond to these fundamental issues.