By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Between May 23rd and May 26th more than 400 Million voters were called to vote in the European elections in order to elect 751 deputies for the European parliament (EP). As preliminary observation (28th of May) – unlike the European elections 2014- this time the overall electoral participation was higher – namely well above 50%. This varied significantly between some eastern countries like Czech Republic (28 %) and the EU core countries Germany (61%) or France (50%). The preliminary electoral results indicate that a new trend is emerging:
- Contrary to expectations, the right wing populist shift across Europe has not taken place, which could bring about the end of the EU which came into being 50 years ago. What we see instead is a European party landscape shaped by “centrifugal” forces which reflect the heated national debates that take place within the constituting 28 member states.
- While in absolute numbers the two main stream parties Christian-Democrats and Social Democratic parties (unified each as faction in the EP) have obtained fewer seats, they still represent the dominant factor within the EU parliament, which in the future may become a stage for shifting ad hoc coalitions, depending on which topics will be voted upon. Only the Liberals gained 42 seats (now the 3. strongest faction with 109 seats, while the EPP [Christian-Democrats] with 180 seats lost 41 and the Social-democrats with 146 lost 45 seats).
- As soon as the rhetoric about the future EU parliament calms down, “national reflexes” or considerations will come into play more forcefully. This is exemplified by Germany and the debate which broke out there rafter the European elections: In reaction to the huge Greenie vote in Germany during the European Elections (gaining 20 %, a plus of 10 % -and emerging as second force in Germany after the Christian-Democrats) many political leaders reacted by “extrapolating” the German electoral experience to Europe as a whole, stating that the German European election results should set a “guideline” for future policy in Europe and domestically. At the same time the AfD (right wing populist party) in several Eastern German federal States like Saxonia, Sachsen-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Thüringen and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern became the second largest force. This is relevant for the upcoming elections in some of these federal states taking place in autumn 2019.
The Greenie factor
The Greenies were a major winner in Germany emerging with a 20% vote as second political force after the Christian Democrats (29%), followed by the Social Democrats (15%) who had put a lot of emphasis on social justice and economic questions. In the EU parliament the European Greenies will represent 69 seats, aside the Left assembling 39 seats and the right wing populists almost 170 seats: the EKR conservatives 59; the right wing populists EFDD 54, Right extremists (ENF) 58. (Among them now the 14 deputies of the Brexit Party of Farage (UK), who want to leave the EU; the right wing factions might also be newly recombined.) It must be emphasized however that the German results are not “representative” for the whole of Europe.
In the follow up to the elections some smaller political earthquakes broke out: In Austria Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had to resign as result of a “vote of mistrust” (May 27th) in which the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) together with the right wing/ populist party FPÖ voted the quite successful Chancellor Kurz (from the conservative –liberal party ÖVP) out of office. The mistrust vote came as result of a destabilization operation that had been launched in the past two weeks: It centered around a video, that was made under cover in Ibiza (in mid-2017) in which a supposed Latvian, Russian – speaking female investor was used as a stringer trying to lure Heinz Christian Strache -later nominated vice Chancellor under Chancellor Kurz in the Coalition government (ÖFP and FPÖ), to take the investor’s money which as Strache was boasting in the video at the time, could be used to bribe or buy up Austrian main stream media. After the dismissal of several FPÖ ministers from the Austrian government, a mistrust vote was initiated by a coalition of SPÖ (Social democrats) and FPÖ which led to Kurz’ overthrow Monday 27th of May; this being the case despite the fact that he won significant scores during the European Parliamentary elections. Until October 31rst when new elections will take place, an expert government will take responsibility. One should remember that Austria – during the post war era has strategically always played the role of “mediator” in the Mideast, Balkans as well as in respect to Russia and Eastern Europe. Aside Austria, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras from the left SYRIZA party has called for new elections. A reaction to the fact that the conservative Nea Democracia got a major vote during the elections. Also Greece under Tsipras played a mediating role for the Balkans.
In terms of a “populist” surge what can be observed is a remarkable shift that takes place between Southern and Northern Europe, as well as between East and Western Europe.
* In Italy Salvinis Lega Party got 34% aside the Democratic Party (PD) 23% and the Movement Cinque Stella of di Maio, which obtained 17 %, with this the Lega Party becomes the dominating political force for now.
*In France Le Pens Rassemblement Nationale (which was a major factor for the Yellow Vest upheaval), got 23%, while President Macrons La Republique en marche got only 22% and the Greenies obtained 14%.
* In Great Britain – which has decided to exit from the EU – but which due to internal chaos between Prime Minister May and the Parliament had postponed the Brexit until 31rst October- Nigel Farage (from the radical populist Eurosceptic party Ukip) obtained with his newly founded “Brexit- party” almost 32% during the European elections, while Prime Minister Teresa May resigned more than a week ago, being unable to break the stalemate in Parliament to get an orderly Brexit voted upon (the Tories down to around 8 % losing nearly 14 % from the previous election). While there is feverish search for a May successor, the absurdity in GB is that the country will most probably exit without a deal- which essentially means an outright economic disaster for Great Britain as well as for the EU, as a recent Bertelsmann study had documented, according to which the GB economy will lose 57bn Euro, and losses amounting to 10bn Euro in Germany.
*In Eastern and Central Europe- Victor Orban’s party Fidesz obtained 52% while in Poland the nationalist PiS under Kaszinsky obtained 43 % of the vote. This stands in stark contrast to the situation in some countries in Southern Europe:
* For example in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands -the Social Democratic Parties mostly won the European elections: in Spain the PSOE got 33% (PP 20%, Podemos 10%, Vox 6%; in Portugal PS 33% (PSD 22% and BE 10%) and in the Netherlands also the Social democrats got most of the votes.
* In Germany something special occurred: The Greenies are now the second largest political party after the Christian Democrats in Germany while the traditional SPD is at 15%. The Greenie vote was the result of a major media campaign which centered on the “Fridays for future” marches with thousands of young pupils marching every Friday calling upon politics to do something against the climate disaster. After the elections in German there is now across the parties a debate about who in Germany is to blame. Given that a majority of young people under 25 years voted in favor of the Greenies there is a huge debate that German Politics is facing a generational gap and that more attention should be given to the question of a CO2 tax and climate change, while other themes that the Social Democrats had put upfront (pensions, social justice, housing et cetera) play a less important role in the public debate while future geostrategic challenges which the world is going to face in the Mideast, relations with the US under Trump, with Russia and China, including the future European security architecture are pushed in the background and inner party quarrels are put upfront.
Future of EU
The protagonists of the past years will be out of power soon: this includes the Chairman of the European commission Jean Claude Juncker, who will have to be replaced in the next days and weeks by another candidate. Heads of states must decide these days in the EU between CSU candidate Manfred Weber- the Social-democrat Frans Timmermans (Netherlands) and Liberal Margaret Vestager from Denmark. Also the chairman of the European Council (EU heads of state) Donald Tusk, Frederica Mogherini (Foreign Policy representative of the EU) as well as the director of ECB Draghi will have to be replaced by new candidates, where France favors other candidates than the German ones.
Defending European interests
The European Parliament whose traditional parties have been weakened as result of the elections will become in the future a forum for many “different” party voices, a platform for more heated debates and different ad hoc coalitions concerning votes on special topics. However what is at stake is: Which future way will Europe go? And who is going to show leadership for Europe and the defense of Europe’s Common Good?
A useful analysis which should be taken into account is an essay which was recently published by the well- known German Historian Professor Herfried Münkler (a year ago he published a fascinating book about the thirty years war) in the German Daily FAZ (27.05.19) under the title “Dare more leadership.” It’s a reflection about the potential role which Germany together with France could play in Europe especially after it has become clear that the US under President Trump will no more plays the role of the “guardian of a Global Order” but is only pushing its own interests, very similar to China that is only pushing its own interests and that aside its Silk –Road Project will not show global leadersip responsibility. In a review how the European Order came into being after 1945, Münkler looks at the period till 1989 when France and Germany, aside Italy were the leading protagonists of Europe. While France defined the political frame, Germany concentrated on its economic power.
After 1990 during the process of Reunification, the French/ German motor was active in Europe, with Germany however orienting more and more domestically on its own interests. Münkler takes a critical view concerning Germany’s “hesitant” attitude vis a vis French President Macron, in particular his call for a stronger European economic and financial as well as technological scientific union. What Merkel did after the 1990 years was according to Münkler, to concentrate on stabilizing the Balkans at the southern flank of the EU. During the migration crisis 2015 she took leadership in the EU, by largely “reacting to the conditions as they emerged,” (a term coined by Niccoló Machiavelli as “Qualità dei tempi.”)
According to Münkler there are at present many “centrifugal” forces in the 28 EU member states. He remarks that there is a strong “economic gap” between North and South, as well as between East- and Western Europe. What separates the North from the South is a different economic thinking, while the gap between East and West is a different thinking about democracy, the people’s will and nationalism. Two dividing lines are right now emerging within the EU: While Poland and the Baltic States are fixated on the “Security Policy”, i.e. neighboring Russia – Spain, Italy and Malta are focusing attention on the Mediterranean and related to this the question of migration from Africa via the Mediterranean. In order to balance those “centrifugal” forces, what is needed is a “centripetal” power. In his view Germany has become an “indispensable Nation” within the EU. If it wants to lead it should “balance” interests and be able to compromise. It should ensure above all that for realizing the “Common Good” of all, the “EU must speak with one voice” and articulate clearly where its own interests are.
Münkler remarks that with its “America first” policy the US has withdrawn and will not return to its role of being a “guardian of the Global Order.” The unipolar order, based on universal values, which is now dissolving, creates the potential for the emergence of “five potential hegemonic powers” (pentarchy): this includes the USA, China, and in all probability also Russia (as north Asian land bridge and nuclear power), Europe and India. If Europe sticks together and speaks with one voice, this “five power combination” could be shaped. It can only function however if it gives attention to its periphery: Africa, Maghreb, the Sahel Zone and the Mideast, since a “stabile periphery” is the precondition for Europe to become part of this “five powers constellation.” From such a perspective the EU should take “security” in its own hands, as well as become an “independent” factor in the field of IT and Artificial Intelligence Technology.
In this context Münkler points to the criticism which was recently raised against German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier and the presentation of his paper “Industrial Strategy for 2030.” In this paper the Minister calls for the promotion of Europe’s “self- assertion as industrial and technological power.” According to Altmaier Europe should focus its attention on building up future industrial and technological “European champions” (following the model of Airbus). Münkler underlines that contrary to all the criticism Altmaier is correct. Germany should give up its hesitant attitude vis a vis French President Macron who had precisely demanded this kind of cooperation within the EU and push ahead the “technological independence” of the EU.
One should study the newly signed German- French Aachen Treaty (January 21rst 2019) in which France and Germany presented new guidelines for a common security, economic, as well as social policy partnership. Aside the commitment that both countries should work for a “closely growing partnership between Europe and Africa,” the treaty underlined the need to deepen the integration of the respective national economies towards a “German- French Economic space with common rules.” Aside increasing their cooperation in research areas such as digital change, including artificial intelligence and other innovation leaps, the two countries will create a German- French Initiative for promoting innovations, which are open for cooperation on a European level.