The European Parliamentary Elections as I see them

Por Joana Pinho*

european_elections-201911

By the time you will be reading this article, the votes will already be filling the ballot boxes of some of the European Union Member States. Even though all the projections and analysis of the results still comprehend some degree of speculation and expectation, there are some tendencies that, even now, stand out in these elections.

Probably, more than in any time before since the beginning of the elections for the European Parliament in 1979, the elections of this year carry with them the question over the European Union’s identity. During the four next days, while voting to elect the members of the European Parliament, we will be, in fact, voting on the future we believe in, we will vote on what kind of European project we want, and we will be deciding for what should the European Union stand.

Still, the weight of this vote will come, for many, unperceivable. As citizens, we tend to be more concern with the practical implications of the policies than with the identity dimension of politics. The way we see it, the choice is between the practicality of traveling just with an identification card and the fear of a foreign “invasion”. Is between the enriching experience of doing Erasmus and the challenge of finding a job in a much more globalized market. Is between the opportunity that the European funds provide and the burden of austerity. There is legitimacy and validity in all of these dilemmas, and in normal times, they would represent nothing more than what they appear to.

Nevertheless, when put together, they stand for something much bigger than the practicality of our daily life. They stand for what we, as a community, are and represent. They stand for the values that we defend, for the ideologies that we promote and for the principles that we safeguard.

We now leave in a time when the basic principles that once founded the European project of integration, no longer subsist as irrefutable common denominators between the political forces of the different Member States. The emergence of strong far-right ideologies, the rhetorical nuances that the center-right parties adopted in order to regain its conservative votes, the proliferation of Eurosceptic forces around the political spectrum, all have come to trigger the ghosts of European Union, building on economic disparities and social schisms.

At the time that I am writing this article, the polls indicate a drop of the votes on the most traditional political forces at the center (EPP and S&D), that still leave the elections victorious, but that together count a loss of 88 seats. On the contrary the parliamentary groups of Salvini’s European Alliance of People and Nations, or the 5Star’s group together with a Brexit party are  expected to amount a total of 122 seats in the Parliament, which represents a rise of 44 seats when compared with the results of the correspondent political families in the last elections[1]. Such results cannot come as a surprise. Already in the analysis of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Europe has emerged as the place where democracy has declined more in the world. [2]

There is, with the exception of the 5’s Star and Brexit party, a geographical transversality of the support to these political projects that cannot be ignored. We must keep in mind that one of the beauties of democratic systems is the possibility of taking conclusions of electoral results that actually correspond to the free and motivated choice of the people. And therefore, these claims cannot be ignored or considered less valid.  Behind these political choices, one can find legitimate motivations of dissatisfaction, where the EU has fall shorter than it promised.  Therefore, the EU, cannot forget that it bears a responsibility to these people as well.

Nevertheless, while recognizing the significant results that these political forces seem to be able to secure within the EU, one cannot avoid the question: What does this mean to the continuity and evolution of the European project.

In a time where the Brexit impasse came to discredit the opt-out possibility as a viable option for the other Member States, these political forces seem to have shifted their strategy to bending and reshaping European Union to their will and aspirations from within. The accommodation of these forces within the European Parliament is not the first, and maybe not even the most important step towards this goal (given the interinstitutional relations of the EU). It is, nevertheless, a very significant one, as it comprehends the affirmation of the democratic legitimacy of such forces within the European Project, given directly by the European people.

There is, nevertheless, an ontological mismatch between the ideology of these political forces and the European project most fundamental aspirations. What these ideologies propose comes wrapped in claims of national sovereignty, traditional values, and national identity. Their true claims, however, imply a Europe that retreats from its international commitments, that turns a blind eye to the gross limitations of democracy and an EU that is an accomplice of political interference in the judicial system.

No doubts remain about the extent to which the European Union, between so many accomplishments, has still failed to deliver the promises that made to their full extent. One must keep remembering, however, that the solution to such failure does not come with lowering the standards of freedom, democracy, and human rights, but with a renewed investment of each of us in keep on building a European project that grows closer to the aspirations and aims in reference to which the EU was built.

The imminent European Parliamentary Elections entails the opportunity to seriously reflect on values that once set the cornerstone of the European project, and ask ourselves if we are ready to give up such values in the interest of populistic projects at the cost of disfiguring the project of European integration, as it was aimed to be.

It is true that the EU must serve, first and foremost, the purpose of promoting the development and fulfilment of Europeans, individually and as a community. If not for that, then why should we have a European Union at all? However, this process must be built on a set of principles and values that better guarantee that no one’s development and fulfilment is achieved by sacrificing the one of another.

Therefore, in order to safeguard the continuity of such principles and values as the base of EU’s identity, we came to a time where we, Europeans, individually and as a community, must serve the purpose of promoting the development and fulfilment of the European project in accordance with such values, and these elections are our chance to do so. If not for that, then why have elections at all?

[1] Analyse based on the projections published by Politico at https://www.politico.eu/2019-european-elections/

[2] This affirmation results from the Democracy Index 2018, available at https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index

*Joana Pinho: Jurista, Estudante de Mestrado em Estudos Europeus Interdisciplinares no Colégio da Europa.

 

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