The EU’s 28-step tango

No orthodoxy other than this conviction unites them.

By AZAM GILL
June 10, 2019 20:54
4 minute read.
People wave European union flags

European Union flags flutter as people take part in the demonstration "One Europe for all", a rally against nationalism across the European Union, in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2019.. (photo credit: LISI NIESNER)

 
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The results of the EU elections have started hemming in the 20-year old flagship center-right and socialist alliance and disarraying the national status quo. The resulting scramble for the European Commission’s presidency, resignations and the outcome of Greece’s municipal elections portend fractiousness.

Over 50% of the 512 eligible voters of the 28 European Union countries went to the four-day polls between May 23 and 26 to elect 751 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 Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker – 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 National Rally Party (Rassemblement National) has trimmed the sails of President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche. He is now haggling with Germany’s Chancellor 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 euroskepticism. Its fierce proponents have no wish to surrender their national histories and independence to a multi-national zone, the endgame 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 28 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 euroskeptics will fight a three-pronged war of attrition.


They will seek to install non-partisan commissioner-doms.

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 reelections 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. 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.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón is cautiously backing a fellow socialist, Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands, 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 11 of the 13 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 euroskepticism.

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.

The writer is a novelist, analyst and retired lecturer from Toulouse University, France. He served in the French Foreign Legion, French Navy and the Punjab Regiment. He is the author of eight books, including three novels and contributes to The Big Thrill, The Express Tribune and Dawn. He blogs at https://writegill.com/.

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