miercuri, 12 martie 2014

European Parliament elections: Euroscepticism & Euro populism

The European Parliament elections on May 25 will have the première of a powerful wave of euro populist and euro-extremists. Euroscepticism will increase, although it already has its representatives in Parliament, albeit in low numbers. Where before there could not be a sustainable and distinct euro populist group in the European Parliament, operating in parallel with the major European political families, it is very likely that the situation will change after the coming elections. The reason is the strong growth of populists and extremists both in big and small EU member states. Romania might escape the trend, but in France the National Front wreaks havoc; Movement 5 Stars in Italy remains high in the polls; UKIP scores as such that it may become the main party in the European elections in the UK; there is the Dutch populist Wilders, who will also likely score high; as well as several countries in Eastern and Southern Europe (including Poland) where there are extreme alternatives, besides existing ones (i.e. Greece and Hungary).

Whether we speak of populism or extremism, for the elections these parties will not only target the so-called "corrupt political elite", but also Brussels, a demonized entity, asking "repatriation" of powers or a stronger national voice. It is a hypocritical position, because states already have a voice in Brussels, namely through the EU institutions, and strategy of international representation compared with national resources depends only on the states themselves.

The fact is that populists and extremists would not have much success if our European political "mainstream" class, be it left; right; or centrist, would handle the crisis across the EU better. This crisis is not just one of the Eurozone, but one experienced by other large blocks of the world as well. This provides an opportunity for reconfiguration to be even more competitive in the near future. It's an economic, social and structural crisis. The difference with other big countries or trading blocs is that the EU has the resources to turn this crisis into opportunities, to strengthen it even more. We don’t yet have an overview of the effects the crisis has, but the current political class must gain more understanding of what we need, so that we can ‘restart’, because previous models are no longer valid.

Under the pressure of populists and extremists, we learn that the lessons history teaches us are still taken into account. The EU project must become more ambitious, as going back is not a solution. Sure, communicating a federal project, a United States of Europe, must be more intelligent and articulate, empathetic and firm at the same time. Otherwise, the structure will sink, due to the shots fired at "corrupt elites" and Brussels will continue in the absence of the praetorian guards of the European project.

Regarding the EU citizens, they do not show euroscepticism in equal doses, and certainly not hard-core eurosceptisism. There are Europhiles in Britain – albeit with minimum participation, in Germany, Poland, and Romania. So we could consider this "soft" euroscepticism, maybe also because the European Union is a slow project, and people do not have patience. It was founded to soothe citizens' anxiety, a change of address from "austerity" to "fiscal consolidation". But actually the way things are done really matter, we need to show substance – not just form. The fact is that the European economy will restart with entrepreneurship in the foreground, for when there are few jobs; there is no other opportunity but to become your own boss. Sure, the crisis decreased confidence in the EU, but the question is whether you sit and let things go, or roll up your sleeves and get to work. And this applies both to politicians, and citizens.

Finally, if we look at Romania, we see that Romanians still are more optimistic than the European average in terms of the EU's future, even if there is a decreased euro-enthusiasm. This has many causes, and it all starts with our expectations about the EU: more money, freedom of movement and labour, influence in Brussels. All these areas disappoint in practice, and so it's normal for the enthusiasm to drop. The theme of European money will remain on the agenda, whereas the topic of freedom of movement will fade into the background to eventually disappear entirely. Regarding the development of a stronger voice in Brussels, it remains to be seen whether this will be played moderately, or if this will go toward a more nationalistic tone, like "the European Commission should leave us in peace”. Romanians went from being euro-enthusiast to euro-realist, and the next step is to manage the relationship Brussels-Bucharest in the best way there is. Let’s hope that our political class will have the wisdom to manage the relationship with Brussels properly.

Dan LUCA / Brussels

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