What if…

European elections are still a few months away, yet most commentators are already speculating on who, amongst the current Brussels “mandarins”, is going to be elected (but it’s safer to say “appointed”) in the EU top posts. However, and once discounted the increased loss of relevance of certain European institutions, there is in Brussels a worrying tendency to disregard the multiplying signs of rising extremisms that could – if the result confirms the early polls – change the face of the Parliament and, more in general, of European politics.

Politicians in the European capital seem to completely disregard signals coming from electorates all around Europe: a circumstance that is even more discomforting given that – this time – political parties will be accountable for their choices of candidate for President of the Commission. Recent surveys and electoral tests have shown strong hints that a solid performance from the so-called “populist parties” is likely: in the recent German elections, the AFD party clinched almost 5% and nearly made it to the Bundestag (and all odds go in the direction of an increase next spring), while the French “Front National” might possibly be the first party in the country with almost 25% consensus (and it recently won a second round election in a small city, defeating an alliance of UMP and PS voters). In Italy, the 5Star Movement also enjoys a similar backing (20-25%), while the UKIP in England as well as the Spanish extreme left are on the rise as well. Austrians “liberals” (who appear to be not so liberal after all…) also deserve close attention, amid their recent score in the country’s political elections, as does Golden Dawn, boosted by criminal accusations that determine, as usual in these cases, an aura of martyrdom very popular with its most fervent supporters.

On the other hand, for “traditional” parties it’s “business as usual”: there is very little preoccupation and even less talk of a possible major defeat. The line of reasoning is always the same – “we’ll pull it through”. But what if, this time, so-called “populist” parties make an amazing performance or, even worse, the group is currently known as the EFD becomes the biggest one within the EP?

Not much in policy terms, I suspect: the “Euro-skeptic” formations are very diverse and pursue different policies in their countries. In the EP, they are very much united only by their loathe for the European construction and by their desire to revert to nation states, while coherent and solid policymaking – even in the direction of a “deregulation” or “re-nationalization” of EU competences – will hardly be their top priority.

However, the political meaning of such display of power can be enormous for the Union, just at the time when it tries to move forward with some decisive changes towards supranationalism (not federalism, which is a completely different matter). It will push traditional parties “towards the extremes”, in search of the lost consensus, it will rise awareness that citizens do not want “more integration” and it will once and for all wipe out the neo-functionalist idea that a “shift of loyalty” towards the center would, sooner or later, occur. In fact, if anything, citizens’ “loyalty” is shifting back to nation states.

Ironically, all this will happen in the first European elections in history where participation will – most likely – be higher than in the previous one.

All in all, talks of democratic deficit and increased legitimacy of European institutions as well as the emphasis on the importance of the upcoming vote are dangerous for traditional parties – as they increase the reject for them amongst European voters – and should be cut very short. In a rare moment of truth, an MEP once told me that the only “federal” organ of the EU is today the European Central Bank, which has not been elected and whose “independence” – a circumstance that has allowed it to take decisions based on the interests of the Eurozone as a whole – is currently considered by many countries as a mistake.

When, a few months ago, I wrote that European federalism is today an illusion and that Barroso was either delusional or completely phony in publicly affirming how close the objective was (again, whose objective?), I was branded as a “Euroskeptic”. They even interviewed me to prove that “College of Europe graduates were turning agains the European construction”. What I was instead trying to say is that there is amongst European voters only one element of consensus:  EU (and the Eurozone) work well when they don’t have the arrogance to claim some sort of political legitimacy, or state plans to build a “federalist” (again, with what public support?) union.

I also meant to say how dangerous it is to mention an ambitious “democratic” idea when there is total lack of public support for it: it’s as if an untalented football player communicated to the opposing team’s defense his intention to score an inverted kick. At best, he has made his intentions public to his opponents; at worst, he has motivated them to be even more cautious about his moves. In both cases, given his lack of talent, he is going to embarrass himself.

The overwhelming majority of politicians in Brussels are notoriously unknown amongst European voters: given their (lack of) ability to take the stage, we could only hope for the sake of the Union’s future that it stays this way.

Alfonso Ricciardelli

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