Schisms of European Parliament

Photo Source: New York Times

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront


In 2019, voters have chosen a fractured European Parliament. The mandate is reflecting polarisation. 

The result will trigger a flux and more uncertain future in Europe, as Greens, populist and nationalist forces have gained ground, while as centre right and centre left political parties are losing ground.

Despite Greens and Populists being polar opposite in their political perspectives and actions, they still have something in common: fighting for a sustainable society. While populists are seen as opposing the elites, the Greens, popular among the urbanised middle class, are seen as sort of ecological liberals, wanting climate protection.

Going by the statistics, Euroskeptic parties have increased their share to twenty-five per cent, which is a twenty per cent gain, since the last election. The rise of populism in countries such as Hungary, Italy, Poland, may trigger  a referendum, in the institution itself, and open border theory, the Schengen principle, will be questioned, in the coming years, provided if populist and nationalist forces do well again.

According to populist parties, the refugee problem is not history, and they think the crises are not monitored well at the borders. The European Commission, at the present moment, have not yet deployed 10,000 additional Frontex officials, as a preventive action.

The European Parliament is an elected institution, with 751 seats, within the 28-nation European Union. This time around, the turnout was more than fifty per cent, the highest since 1994. In fact, the turnout has not dropped since European Elections began in 1979. Ralph Sina, Brussels correspondent and bureau chief for Germany's public broadcaster WDR/NDR, commented: ‘This European election was decided by two questions: the refugee issue and the climate issue.’

According to Martin Selmayr, secretary general of the European Commission, the results are a ‘wake up call’. He said: ‘If Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin don’t engage in this European project, the region will lose a lot.’ He also went on to comment that although populist candidates like Matteo Salvini of Italy, and Marine Le Pen of France, went on to present a united front, their populist wave was contained at the end. Conversely, populist parties have done well in southern Europe, however, not in northern Europe.

The election verdict stands a litmus test for their popularity, and they will continue to push harder on issues, such as controlling immigration, and the budget. They will also demand more power for individual nations, rather than the bureaucracy, which they consider as ‘elitist.’ This agenda may pose as a serious challenge to the traditionalist, pro Europeans. In the past, the far-right political parties were just tainted for playing petty politics, and people simply didn’t want them to govern them. They were not considered as serious policymakers, but now, they are becoming a permanent feature of European politics.

As per Bulgarian analyst, Ivan Krastev: ‘Of the five individual political parties with the biggest representation in the new European Parliament, four are anti-European Union.’

The populist parties, that have done well in this European Election may have a common ideology, but they also differ on issues, such as the European budget and Russia. Steven Erlanger and Megan Specia, in a New York Times Oped wrote: ‘These disjointed policies, and the strong egos involved will make it harder for those (populist) parties to forge effective alliances.’

In the European Elections, countries such as Britain had voted on one issue: Brexit. It had remained a pivotal agenda in this European Election. It had divided and united numerous political politics. However, Nigel Farage’s  Brexit Party went on to take thirty-one per cent of the vote. This is something phenomenal because it is a political party that did not exist four months ago. In the European Parliament, Brexit Party has more seats, more than Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord. However, Brexit Party currently holds no seats in the regional parliament. The rival Liberal Democrats, with the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’, scored just eighteen per cent of the vote. The Conservatives and Labour party have had their worst European Election, since a decade, with a vote share of around 8 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively. In fact, Nigel Farage told the BBC: ‘the vote was a reflection of the real sense of frustration out there.’ He also told BBC Radio 4: ‘If we don’t leave on October 31, then we can expect to see the Brexit party’s success continue into the next general election.’

SNP’s surge in the European Election might have major implications for a second independence referendum. It also wants to stop the Brexit. However, they have also become anti-Westminster lately, as they believe the parliament is ignoring the wishes of the Scots. At present, there is a constitutional divide between the Unionists and the Nationalists, and whether Scotland should become independent.

The Green Party, on the other hand, did very well in Nordic countries, as issues of climate change, the anger of young people at existing policies, seemed to help their vote. In Germany, it scored more than 20 per cent of the vote.

In Germany, centre-left Social Democrats, suffered their worst defeat in decades, finding their alternative in the Greens. Christian Democratic Union, led by Angel Merkel and heir apparent Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, had a weak electoral performance. The present situation might soon expel Merkel, and EU will lose an important political figure. There will be more hindering on crucial matters, including Euro, policy on China and migration. Her party cannot claim now that Germans owe a lot to European reunification and cessation of wars. Both SDU and CDU, in the past, have been accused of taking over issues of the Greens, through cutting coal, switching off nuclear power plants, transforming energy sector into a planned economy, and reorganisation of the automotive industry, to name a few. This might have worked against their interests in this election.

German historian Ronald G. Asch has commented that a highly fragmented European Parliament will lead to more conflict between EU member states. He also believes that German voters would regret voting for the Greens one day, because radical climate policies would lead to the collapse of German industrial sectors, that underpin German’s economic machinery.

As per Soeren Kern, of the Gate Stone Institute, this election reflects a generational shift and ideological clashes will continue to dominate this institution. ‘In the current time, there are two mega issues: the fight against climate change championed by the pro-EU globalists; and the opposition to mass migration and multiculturalism led by the anti-EU national populists.’

Collective European interests are on the losing side, it seems. Euro currency now is seen something which has not made a major coherence within the countries. They are very few political parties left now, that talk about European interests as a whole. The potential left-right conflict will make it difficult to neutralise national interests.

In history, there were political parties that were central in developing class and economic structures of the 19th and 20th centuries. But now, they seem to lose their relevance. Political cultures have changed. In times such as today, European voters are motivated by new issues — such as climate change, identity and migration. In the future, the EU will try to move forward with a slogan: ‘More Europe Now’, and try to shift more powers to Brussels.

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