The European Union Elections: A Bump in the Road or a Strategic Turn?


2014-05-27 This past Sunday, elections were held throughout Europe for the European Parliament.

The result was a significant anti-establishment vote, and an increase in popular support for the European right wing.

Nowhere was this more dramatic than in France where the governing party received 13% of the vote as opposed the Front Nationale’s nearly 25% of the vote.

Nor did this only happen in France.

As the EU Observer wrote:

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (27 May) are still digesting the result of EU elections, which saw anti-establishment parties winning in Britain, France, Belgium, Greece, and Denmark and making gains in several other countries.

Commenting on the outcome, which saw the far-right National Front scoop most of the French votes on Sunday, President Francois Hollande said it reflects “distrust in Europe and a fear of decline”.

He seemed to have drawn few personal consequences from the vote, however, which put his Socialist party in third place on a bruising 13.9 percent.

Instead, he blamed Europe, for having become “incomprehensible”, and weak economic growth. “At tomorrow’s Council, I’ll reiterate that growth, jobs and investment must be the priority,” he said in a brief address on national TV on Monday evening.

As a British colleague commented that the results meant that the EU itself was now funding a significant anti-European effort as the new right wing deputies would atke their salaries and benefits and direct them at the EU itself!

And indeed within the European parliament, there will no be a significant anti-EU coalition, which can clearly have an impact on institutions already struggling to govern Europe.

Marine Le Pen's Front National party came first in three exit polls with more than 25% of the vote. Photograph: Remy De La Mauviniere/AP
Marine Le Pen’s Front National party came first in three exit polls with more than 25% of the vote. Photograph: Remy De La Mauviniere/AP

This comes in the context of a continuing Euro crisis, which itself raises fundamental questions about the strategic direction of Europe and the Crimean Crisis which is a clear dampening down on any thought of EU expansion Eastward.

The elections, although not definitive statement in their own regards, are clearly part of a European crisis.  Reform within Europe is clearly necessary, no matter what the European political class wishes to believe.

Without reform, the crisis will deepen and the Euro skeptics strengthened. It is no longer about “saving” European construction done to date; it is about revamping it.

The Economist provided the following explanation of what the elections might mean:

Brussels is now bracing itself for an almighty bout of arm-wrestling.

On the one side are the parliamentarians, particularly the Spitzenkandidaten themselves.

Ignoring the will of the people, they argue, would be a travesty for European democracy.

Neither Jean-Claude Juncker, whose centre-right European People’s Party came first, nor Martin Schulz, his centre-left counterpart, commands a majority of seats.

But both are vigorously asserting their claims to the presidency and cobbling together possible coalitions in the new Parliament.

On the other side are the governments, and particularly the British one. David Cameron finds both the idea of Spitzenkandidaten, and the politics of the two frontrunners, unpalatably federalist. Angela Merkel, the German premier, has tentatively backed Mr Juncker, while leaving the door open to non-Spitzenkandidaten alternatives more acceptable to the likes of Mr Cameron. Ms Merkel, Mr Cameron and the 26 other heads of state are meeting for dinner on May 27th to discuss their next steps.

How this arm-wrestling goes will answer some weighty questions about the state of contemporary European politics.

How much influence does Britain—edging towards the exit door, especially after the result of the election—still wield in Brussels?

Does the Parliament now have the ability to strong-arm the governments?

Can an effective, centrist “grand coalition” be forged, capable of out-voting the growing extremes of left and right?  

Can the divergent interests and priorities of euro zone “ins” and “outs” still be reconciled?

The new Commission, and its president, are expected to be in place by the autumn.

A hot, scratchy summer awaits.

The reaction of the Chancellor of Germany to the impact of the election was to underscore its seriousness.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “A strong message is needed that we are shaping Europe so it becomes more functional, to better respond to the needs of people.”

She also underlined France’s key symbolic and political place in the EU, after French voters caused an earthquake by giving the lion’s share of their ballots to Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU, populist National Front party.

“France is defining for the EU and the eurozone. As Germans we have the utmost interest that France is on a successful track.

I will do whatever I can for France to be on a growth track, otherwise it is not possible for the eurozone to regain its stability.”