ECDPM Great Insights magazine, Spring/Summer 2019 Special Edition (Volume 8, Issue 2 & 3).
For the first time since 1994, over 50% of citizens voted in the European elections which were held last month. Now that the results are in, the message is clear: European voters want change. ‘Green wave’ vs. ‘peak populism’ is how the Financial Times summarised the outcome. The two parties that for decades dominated EU politics – the christian democrats and socialists – no longer have a majority. Greens, pro-EU liberals but also anti-EU populists all gained ground. In Germany, the Greens came in second place while they reached a surprising third place in France. In Finland they had their best results ever. In total, green parties, with a political agenda focusing on environmental protection and socio-economic equality, will have 70 seats in the new European parliament, up from 51 in the last election. The liberal family will grow by 41 seats to a total of 100 MEPs. On the other hand, the far right, waving the Eurosceptic and anti-migration flag, will hold about 25% of the seats of the Parliament. While a smaller percentage than initially predicted it is still a strong result which reflects political dynamics in several big EU countries, especially Italy, France, Poland and the UK. The big question now is to what extent the far right parties will be able to work together within the European Parliament when what each party wants above all is to advance their own national interests.
The attention has now moved to the negotiations on who should get which top job in the EU institutions. A more fragmented Parliament, while perhaps more representative of current European political trends, will make it more difficult to reach an agreement on programme and personalities, with a game of three-dimensional chess being played by member states and the European Parliament in the coming months.
While all this is going on, as a group of European think tanks focusing on foreign policy and international cooperation, we felt the need to reflect on what these new trends mean and how Europe can adapt to the demand for change expressed by its citizens, while developing its global role. We asked our network of researchers based in Europe and outside, to share their thoughts on the direction European politics should take, looking at the EU from a national perspective. Each has written a letter to the new EU leadership. Based on what is happening in their respective countries, from Italy to India, from Poland to South Africa, from Finland to Japan, they suggest key actions for supporting sustainable development globally. The letters coming from EU member countries show a composite picture, of fears and nostalgia but also of new ideas and energy. The issues related to the quality of life, such as the environment or social justice must, according to our European authors, regain centrality within European policies, with clear commitments and financial resources. Populist parties cannot monopolise migration issues that more than ever need to be addressed at European level. This implies a European agreement on the Global Compact on migration, based on evidence and shared values. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are mentioned several times by our European authors, as a bold and transformative development agenda that still need to be mainstreamed within European policies and translated into concrete actions. The elections’ results also show the need to rebuild trust in the EU project by getting real feedback on EU policies and acting on it. Listening is not enough. Subsidiarity also means a strong Union that uses its local and regional authorities to get closer to its citizens.
If the letters from European States paint a continent in search of its own identity, authors from the world are frankly dismayed at all this navel-gazing. They still see Europe as a global champion of human rights and democracy, social economy – in a world where the rules-based order is challenged from all directions.
The ‘recipe’ for a stronger Europe seems to be in the Union’s commitment to face common global challenges such as terrorism, cyber-crime, inequalities and climate change. Africa is highlighted as a priority region for Europe, but our African authors agreed on the need to overcome the traditional donor-recipient approach and develop a true partnership with Africa, focusing on common projects and work, through incentives for joint programming. In the long run, Europeans would be wise to rethink their own role in the Indo-Pacific region – how to develop stronger ties with like-minded states in the region – India, Japan and South Korea.
Think Tanks have a big role to play in this changing EU political landscape, by challenging decision makers, offering a variety of views and filling the gap between scattered information, real needs and EU policy.
Giulia Maci, Guest Editor
and Virginia Mucchi, Executive editor of Great Insights