The results of the EU elections have started hemming in the twenty-year old flagship center-right and socialist alliance and thrown the domestic status quo of member countries into disarray. The resulting scramble for the European Commission’s presidency, resignations and, the outcome of Greece’s the municipal elections, portend fractiousness.
Over fifty percent of the five hundred and twelve eligible voters of the twenty-eight European Union countries went to the four-day polls between May 23 and 26 to elect seven hundred and fifty-one Members of European Parliament to bicker in Strasbourg.
Since 1999, the socialist and democrat’s bloc under the aegis of the European People’s Party, led by Messrs. Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker had been calling the shots. Now, even a default alliance with liberals and Greens will not provide sufficient clout, or not for long and at a high price.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National has trimmed the sails of Mr. Macron’s La République en Marche. He is now haggling with Germany’s Angela Merkel over the continuity of Spitzenkandidat, which drops the EU Presidency in the highest scoring party’s lap. That, once again, is Germany’s EPP.
The extent of EU integration and the perceived high-handedness of Brussel’s bureaucrats had been stoking Euro-skepticism. Its fierce proponents have no wish to surrender their national histories and independence to a multi-national zone, the end game of which they see as a remake of the Soviet implosion.
They perceive Brussels’ regulators as a conspiracy of clerks determined to gradually demolish their nations. Some of these opponents would like to abrogate the EU, others to go back to the eve of the Schengen Accords which, in 1985 started abolishing borders. And there are those who don’t mind Schengen, but would like to revoke the 1992 Maastricht treaty which established the European Union and paved the way for the 2009 Lisbon Accords. They all, though, would like to see the Lisbon Accords neutralized.
No orthodoxy other than this conviction unites them.
Until new groups emerge from the turmoil, a clash of overlapping objectives will keep alliances fluid.
So, issues of foreign and domestic policy will find themselves relegated to the back benches by filibustering, news leaks, fake news and hacking.
A pitiless war of attrition in the European Parliament will smolder across the twenty-eight EU borders.
However, the pre-election scare-narrative of a far-right win has not materialized either. But then neither has the fear-mongering maintained the status quo of the center-right alliance.
By losing their hegemony in the European Parliament, the center-right and center-left blocs have their backs to the wall. Entitlement can no longer be presumed. Taking the electorate for granted, they had been nibbling at member-states’ right to decide about eggs, barns, cheeses and subsidies. The average Joes and Janes felt that they were losing control over their day to day lives.
Once Parliament is in session, right-wing blocs will start paring down Brussels’ authority.
The Eurosceptics will fight a three-pronged war of attrition.
They will seek to install non-partisan commissioners.
They will introduce legislation popular with the EU electorate, making it difficult for the slim majority to reject it.
They will obstruct and they will filibuster.
Already, national interests are inching past the European vision.
President Macron and Chancellor Merkel will face re-elections in 2022 and 2021 respectively. Each of them is positioning a fellow-citizen for the European Commission’s Presidency. Angela Merkel is blatantly fielding Manfred Weber. President Macron, though, has hedged his bets, juggling two candidates: Danish Margrethe Vestager and Frenchman Michel Barnier. He is hoping that the choice of Michel Barnier will soothe neo-nationalists whereas Margrethe Vestager should soften the hearts of female voters and retain the goodwill of pro-Europeans.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón of Spain is cautiously backing Dutch and fellow socialist Frans Timmermans, confirming his commitment to a socialist Europe.
Andrea Nahles stepped down from the German Social Democrat Party (SDP) leadership, which is part of the coalition that sustains Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and her chancellorship. If the SPD itself leaves the coalition, it could trigger a snap election. There is also a suspected squabble between Angela Merkel and her successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrrenbauer.
France’s center-right Les Républicains’ head Laurent Wauquiez has also resigned over his party’s dismal showing, while French socialists are licking their wounds.
In Greece, the municipal elections have swept out the ruling left-wing Syriza and installed the conservative New Democracy in eleven of the thirteen regions, Athens and Thessaloniki. Mr. Tsipiras has consequently announced elections for July 7, three months earlier than scheduled.
Europe’s socialists and centrists are now at a crossroads – if they dilute their Lisbon Accords vision, they risk their ideological base. If they continue, they strengthen euro-skepticism.
At the end of the day, the EU leadership is made up of professional politicians for whom, statesmanship is a means. They are optimistically positioning themselves to eat their cake and have it without missing a tango step.