Few aftershocks expected in Jerusalem following EU elections - analysis

The results showed that a populist wave exists, but is by no means sweeping Europe, and Europeans are not all of a sudden turning anti-EU.

A European Union (EU) flag is pictured during a ceremony in Lausanne. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A European Union (EU) flag is pictured during a ceremony in Lausanne.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hundreds of millions of Europeans in 28 countries went to the polls from Thursday to Sunday, and the results being tallied on Monday show that they did not, as some feared and others hoped, turn their backs on the EU project.
While the two main center-left and center-right blocs lost ground and their majority in the 751-seat parliament, the populist and nationalist parties registered only slight gains, going from about 20% of the parliament to 25%. The results projected that the centrist liberal Democrats (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group) had the most impressive gains (from 67 to 109 seats), and the Greens increased their showing from 50 to 69 seats.
The results showed that a populist wave exists, but is by no means sweeping Europe, and Europeans are not all of a sudden turning anti-EU.
The strengthening of the Liberals and the Greens at the expense of the two main center blocs, however, indicates a fragmentation which will make the EU more difficult to govern, as decisions will now be dependent more on forming coalitions.
As far as how it all affects Israel, there are three main takeaways.
The first is that if the EU was difficult to govern until now, with a coalition of the two main center-right and center-left political groupings, now it will be even more difficult, as more parties – with diverse views on issues – will be needed for a coalition.
For those in Israel who want to see less – not more – EU involvement in the diplomatic process or in Israeli affairs because of a feeling that it tilts heavily toward the Palestinians, this is not necessarily a bad thing. According to this school of thought, a Europe focused on its own house will have less time and energy to focus on Israel’s.
The trend of less EU involvement in the Mideast has already been felt over the last number of years, as Europe’s own problems – from the financial crisis through immigration and Brexit – are taking up most of the attention in Brussels. Add to that the EU’s increasing difficulty in governing as a result of the fractionalized parliament, and there is likely to be even less involvement now.
Nimrod Goren, of the Ramat Gan-based Mitivim foreign policy think tank, pointed out that another factor to consider regarding EU involvement in the diplomatic process is that the EU, following parliament elections, will be in a state of transition for months as it selects new leaders and a new commission. And it is during this transition period that the US – according to signals coming from the Trump administration – plans to unveil its “Deal of the Century.”
With the EU not knowing who, for instance, will replace current foreign policy head Federica Mogherini, an EU in transition may not be able to oppose an American plan as strongly as it might have done before entering its transitional phase.
But the EU’s relationship with Israel – and this is not always recognized by Israelis – is not only about labeling settlement products and issuing statements critical of Israel. Not only is the EU Israel’s biggest trade partner, but Israel also benefits greatly from a myriad of joint projects with the European bloc.
Chaos or parliamentary logjams inside the EU parliament could reverberate outward and spread ripples throughout the system, potentially impacting negatively on areas where there is positive cooperation between Israel and the EU which is highly beneficial to both. The Horizon 2020 scientific and innovation program is one example.
Another take away from the elections is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial policy of forging closer ties with some right-wing nationalist parties, such as Matteo Salvini’s League Party in Italy and Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary, could reap benefits as those voices were strengthened inside the parliament.
Israel’s policy has been to make a distinction among the far-right parties in Europe, casting some of them – such as Germany’s AfD Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, and even the National Rally Party of Marine Le Pen in France – beyond the pale because of antisemitism, while forging good working ties with other parties such as Salvini’s and Orban’s.
One result of the strengthening of right-wing parties inside the EU parliament is that they are likely to place more of an emphasis on some issues important to Israel, and which Israel would like to see more effective EU involvement, such as combating Islamic terrorism.
And a final take away has to do with the strengthening of the Greens. Although there is not a unified position among the different Green parties regarding Israel, what pops into mind when one hears the term “Greens” in almost any national context is a strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli tilt.
For instance, in the recent vote inside the German Bundestag characterizing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic, half of Germany’s Green members voted for the resolution, while half voted against.
The approach of the Greens toward many of the environmental issues that they fight for comes from a point of being very critical of the US – and since there is not a country in the world more identified with the US than Israel, this leads to no small amount of enmity.
Israel’s hope is that while voice will be counterbalanced by both the right-wing parties as well as the liberal bloc, which traditionally has taken a more supportive position toward Israel.
The bottom line in Jerusalem is that the European Parliament elections were all about Europe – and the changes taking place there – and the impact of the elections will only be felt residually in Israel. No dramatic changes in either tone or policy are expected in Jerusalem.