A (dis)continuity in the European Governance

Antonio Tajani descends from the highest seat in the European Parliament. He shakes hands with compatriot David Sassoli, who takes his place. They smile. This snapshot closes the waltz of the leadership positions of the European Union of these days, or of those who more than others will influence the choices of the Union, and therefore our lives, from here for the next five years. Following the elections of the new European Parliament on May 26th, the face of the Union and its representatives have changed. The change, however, did not take on the dimensions that during the electoral campaign they feared. During the first months of 2019, in fact, an apocalypse was expected, a revolution in terms of numbers and values ​​within the decision-making spheres of Brussels [1]. The fact is that this epochal change has not been realised; there have been some adjustments in the control room, and some fluctuations in public opinion, but the European Union maintains its values ​​and its different souls that characterise it.

If some balances have changed, others have remained firm. But which balances do we talk about?

The levels I will analyze here are two, on the one hand I will briefly describe how the positions of power have been redistributed among European leaders, on the other I will try to understand how public opinion has changed in recent years, following the election results. The space that provides an article on a blog does not exhaust, be it clear, the complexity of the phenomena described, but serves as a stimulus to treat some of the most current times that run through our (wonderful) Continent.

Let’s start with those five positions that are commonly considered as the key roles of the European Union, whose appointments are fresh at this time. At first glance, it is clear that the founding countries maintain their influence with regard to key roles in European institutions. Let’s see how Germany has the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Belgium the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, France the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, and Italy the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. To these, representatives of the founding States, is added Spain with Joseph Borrell, appointed High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. An appointment that means two things, on the one hand it reinforces Spain’s position in the European arena and shows the strength that the Socialist party has within the Union (despite Sanchez’s own home being treated day and night with Podemos to form a “izquierda government, but not too much “) and in the other it threatens Italy as regards the role of” pursuer “of the Franco-German engine that has covered the whole history of the Union. We can at least state that 1) institutional stability is confirmed among the most influential countries of the Continent 2) Italy weakens, passing from three representatives to one [2], which pays the frontal opposition of the yellow-green axis to certain Brussels policies 3) a Eurosceptic danger is averted, if there ever was. The strength of the Franco-German axis is also emphasized by Eric Maurice, head of the Brussels office of the Schuman foundation “We have witnessed the reconstruction of the Franco-German couple […] This is not only a Franco-German compromise, it is also and above all a Europe at whose head there is a German and a French one ”[3].

If one can speak of stability in the Union’s governance as regards the assignment of key roles, and therefore of the political and economic choices to be adopted, the same cannot be said for the composition of the electorate that elected the European Parliament. Looking at the numbers, compared to five years ago, the socialist and popular historians have seen their electorate erode dramatically, in favour of first and foremost Eurosceptic parties, and of alternative families to traditional blocks, namely liberal and green ones. Considering the results for the Eurogroup, from the 217 MEPs of 2014 the People’s Party  moves to 182, on the other hand the Socialists go from 187 in 2014 to the current 154 [4]. These groups have ruled uninterruptedly since 1979, the date of the first European elections, but today they are forced to find new allies, and the liberal group of ALDE  appears to be the partner in harmony for this type of operation. This option is confirmed by the growth of liberals compared to the last election and represented by 108 elements [5]. If on the one hand the evidence tells us that trust in the EU has been a historical boulder since 1983 [6], the numerical evidence highlighted above is in contrast with this datum. What we can glean from it, conscious of a turnout having collapsed for decades but increasing again, is an increasingly divided vote among those who are at once in favor of the European Union, globalization, and current economic policies and management of immigration, but who, on the other hand, feel threatened by these factors.

Not an easy task ahead for this new leadership; they must recover those voters who, legitimately, have gone elsewhere and have lost faith in the role of Europe as a bastion of a social state and the culture that characterises it. The task of the new leaders is to provide them with certainty and stability above all, especially with regard to the protection of social rights, the real key to fomenting voter discontent with traditional political families. The geometry of the Union remains stable both geographically and politically. These new institutions face an epochal challenge, given the pressures of parties and countries that in recent years have challenged some principles that have so far governed the European Union, starting with the Visegrad group, so determined to oppose Brussels in the squares, equally adept at exploiting the structural funds that the Union makes available [7]. A Europe, the one that will have to lead, that is finally autonomous both from the American model and its unsustainable inequalities, and from the new Chinese state capitalism, which for some months now seems to have set its sights on our (wonderful) continent. The hope is one that, taking up the words of the newly elected president of the European Parliament Sassoli, takes back the “spirit of the founding fathers“, to bring back a Union closer to the people and to put politics, not the economy, back at the centre of the political debate.

A praise, on the sidelines, to the MEPs of the Brexit Party, whose expression of discontent does nothing but reiterate the democratic nature of the European institutions and remind everyone that, in the European Union that they have so hated, everyone is given the freedom to express themselves according to their ideas. We only hope that they will not remember being “MEPs” only at the end of the month, by virtue of the €6,824.85 euro net salary that is due to them [8].

 

Sevilla, 04/07/2019, Alessio Vagaggini

 

References

[1] An electoral strategy – Tarchi would say- that of the thought of excessive expectations towards the populist movements, which then will not translate into electoral results – more useful establishments than useful to understand the real power of such movements.

[2] David Sassoli elected on 03/07/2019 President of the European Parliament. Furthermore, Sassoli is an member of the PD and proposed by the group of European socialists, in open contrast with the yellow-green tandem (the expression refers to the colors of the two parties which composes the Italian Government, the Lega (Green) and the 5-Stelle Movement (Yellow)).

[3] www.ilsole24ore.com, EU nominations, the real winner is Macron, 3 July 2019.

[4] All data are elaborated from www.europarl.europa.eu

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibidem, from 42% in 2014 to almost 51% in 2019.

[7] The Visegrad group was founded in 1991 as an alliance between those countries just emerging from the Soviet orbit, as a pact of political, economic and military collaboration. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are part of it. Thanks to European funds, these realities have improved their information and given new life to the local economy. To learn more, see the results of Poland in this brilliant article by Il Fatto Quotidiano, European Funds: Poland, a model to be followed with 97.5% spent, 23 December 2014.

[8] www.europarl.europa.eu.

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