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European elections: Where are we going and how are we getting there?
By ELINADAV HEYMANN
26/05/2014
Fears about the rise of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance have arisen with the rise of far-right-wing parties across Europe.
 
The European elections of 2014, with some 500 million EU members represented and 751 MEPs elected, took place in a fundamentally different and saddening context than was ever expected. The shooting at the Jewish Museum of Brussels which has so far reportedly killed four people (including two Israelis and a woman from France) scars the environment and context of the elections and brings with it a saddening reminder of rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

The European election results raised, but did not answer, the serious questions of where is Europe going and how is it getting there. The results did however vindicate, in part, the fear and concern heard in past weeks with regard to the rise of far-right-wing parties across Europe. With a likely bloc of some 50/60 seats from across European member states, fears about the rise of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance have arisen.

Aside from the far Right, the European Parliament also saw an end to the era of a clear majority for any one party. Having released the majority of the results, the center-right European People’s Party seemed to have successfully maintained their lead in Parliament, but at a much diminished level, with only 26 seats more than their nearest rivals the Socialists and Democrats (as opposed to their 78-seat majority in 2009).

Similarly, the elections also witnessed an albeit expected low turnout of some 41.11 percent. Although this was a 0.1% increase from 2009, it does mean that some 58% of European citizens did not feel engaged or motivated enough to vote.

All of the factors above are not meant to detract from the European elections, but are meant to raise the questions of where is Europe going and importantly what does all this mean for the Europe-Israel relationship.

The shootings in Brussels over the weekend acted as a stark reminder that there are forces employing violent tactics aimed at increasing division, intolerance and bigotry.

Although the elections have not given a resounding and comprehensive answer of unity they have acted as a warning sign, while also giving some reason for optimism.

Key individuals who have worked hard to improve and extend the EU-Israel relationship have been re-elected.

This means that there can be no doubt that the incredibly strong economic, trade, research and security ties that exist between Israel and the EU will continue to grow and deepen.

The elections have also made it clear that this relationship will have its challenges over the coming years.

Specifically, measures relating to the labeling of Israeli goods from beyond the Green Line will continue to gain momentum, as will the European dual policy of opposing boycotts on Israel while enacting a policy of disengagement from Israeli settlements.

However, the wider question of where the EU is headed, and subsequently where the EU-Israel relationship is headed, is left somewhat unanswered.

The elections have given a picture of a Europe which has decisions and choices to make about its future direction, vision and principles, and the terrible events of the past weekend have reminded us all of the urgency of the need to make these decisions soon.

The author is executive director of the European Friends of Israel.
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