Will the 9th European Parliament really be any different from its previous incarnations? Even though we already know its composition, it is hard to say as of yet. What was undoubtedly different, however, were the elections that led to its formation.
Nationalists and Populists
The pre-election polls were very clear – the third most powerful force in the Parliament was set to be Eurosceptic and Eurorealist forces. Although divided and unable to form a common faction, these groups were clearly characterized by dynamic growth, particularly as a result of charismatic leaders like Matteo Salvini from Italy’s Lega and Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally. While the success these groups have had in their home countries seemed as though it would carry over into the pan-European race, the high-expectations had not adequately taken into account that the European Union has been doing everything in its power to reduce the power of individual member states. Despite endless efforts to erase borders around issues like immigration, it seems the EU is suddenly well aware of the concept of national sovereignty and capable of taking swift decisive action when it comes to crushing it. Naturally, they prefer subservient parties, and for a simple reason: behind their calls to celebrate “diversity,” they speak the common language of money.
While patriotism and nationalism are undoubtedly on the rise across the continent, their reflexive strategy of self-defense against the political and financial elite often fails to find the right outlet and expression. The energy of resistance is more often than not recuperated by skillfully deceptive mainstream parties (Such as Poland’s Law and Justice Party and Hungary’s FIDESZ). The “European spring” which saw an explosion of populist sentiment did not flourish evenly, hence the fact that eurosceptic movements in France and Italy came to the fore in a manner totally unlike their counterparts in abroad. Looking at the matter now, it is hard to say where one might run into anything quite like movements surrounding Salvini and Le Pen, particularly in terms of their potential (note the British example).
It is contextually critical to understand the number of seats these parties were expected to win on the eve of the recent elections. The “Europe of Nations and Freedom” parliamentary block formed by Le Pen and Salvini, for example, was expected to grab up to 85 seats in comparison to the 36 they held.
The “Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy” formation led by former UKIP leader and founder of Brexit Party Nigel Farage and backed up by the Italians from Rome’s ruling 5 Stars Movement were also expected to make major gains. It is worth noting, however, that regardless of how many seats they ended up winning, the largest portion of the group will (hopefully) soon exit the EU altogether and give up their seats, while the 5 Stars has announced an attempt to create their own group of a more populist nature. Nevertheless, it was estimated that the other parties included in the EFDD could still maintain, if not increase, their seats from 42 to 48.
And finally, the European Conservatives and Reformists group was expected to win over 70 seats (a number that would increase significantly if Fidesz ends up joining)– while their program leaves something to be desired, the sentiment of their voters is admirable.
Together this would have amounted to about 215 MEPs entering parliament who are, if not directly from Eurosceptic parties, at least willing to struggle with the European Commission and the Brussels bureaucracy. And yet, despite the successes in France and Italy, the plan was only partially successful. Existing eurosceptic groups ended up with only 176 places– far less than expected, and too little to effectively block choosing another Brussel’s apparatchik as the parliament’s president. The system, though seemingly inert and ineffective, showed an amazing ability to neutralize the threat.
So how did the pyrrhic winners of these elections, Lega and the National Rally, find themselves with only a small group of allies who have so far mostly wasted only time in the ECR? Fortunately, they were at least joined by Germans from Alternative for Germany (who pulled in a good but not stunning 11-percent) the Danish People’s Party and the Real Finns.
The Establishment Will Not Go without a Fight
It should be noted that, for the first time, the EP election was treated like a normal election campaign involving traditional electoral propaganda from the dominant Christian Democratic, Social Democratic and Liberal Democratic formations– in other words, they had to fight to retain power. Until now, the elections were more an indicator of social moods, practice for national elections and a kind of safety valve that would let radicals from left and right say their peace against Brussels without having to do the dirty work of organizing a truly dangerous populist base.
The strength of the establishment is by and large due to the very fact that it is still the establishment, having taken root in public institutions throughout Europe: in the media, in the party system and, of course, in financial matters. The difference is that, this time, they had to use that power.
The parties of the radical ideological minority at the top of a bureaucracy always count on low general attendance coupled with high participation of their minority of supporters. The EU parliamentary elections are a particularly good venue for this strategy since they rarely cultivate much interest. This time, however, the system reached into its reserves – and anti-system forces made a record turnout of 50.95%, the largest in 20 years.
Opposition parties in various countries have historically taken the European Parliamentary elections “seriously” – in other words, not seriously. They came to serve as more or less a substitute for actually important national contests in which oppositional votes are effectively eliminated. In the latest elections, voters had some new methods of showing dissatisfaction with the political class (although most often these methods were tamed in advance or even created by the establishment outright) like voting for new formations attractive to young liberals, progressives and ecologists. This process was especially notable in Germany where the Greens raked in an impressive 23%, but also in the UK, where the Greens were the biggest winners after the Liberal Democrats on the left (22% of the national representation); the uptick is now being referred to as “The Green Wave.”
It is something of a paradox — although the Greens do indeed attend to their counter-cultural image, it is hard to see them as credible opposition to the European administration after they drafted draconian legal regulations regarding CO2 emissions which led to restrictions in the automotive industry, mining and the utilization of coal. In a word – if the Greens are the opposition, they only oppose Brussels for not taking their domination even further!
On the other hand, alongside those belonging for a long time to the German Greens, the smaller parties of the trend are concentrated in a joint alliance with the separatist / regionalist / minority parties (The Greens / European Free Alliance, Greens / EFA), which at least show some level of social sensitivity and verbal objections to imperialist policies masquerading under the guise of “anti-terrorism”.
It is not a coincidence that the establishment is now tripartite, rather than adhering to the customary two-party system in Brussels. This time, the liberals from The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) proclaimed themselves the real winners of the elections, after jumping from 69 seats to 106.
Interestingly, their success mostly comes from the new EU countries, which are considered to be closer to the “far-right”. While it wasn’t too surprising that Romania (where the breakdown and failure of national forces became the most visible) sent liberals/centrists to Brussels, so did the Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenians and Estonians. However, the deciding factor was the British Liberal Democrats, alongside the narrow failure of Macron’s La République En Marche! (LREM). Until recently, he was believed to be the “defender of Europe [read – establishment] against the growing wave of populism”.
Despite predictions, Macron managed to lose to Le Pen by only 0.9% (at least 3-4% was expected), which is a success of sorts given his high level of disapproval in France (72%). While Macron still remains in the establishment’s reserve, proposed reorganization of the of the European Parliament and Commission turned out to be unnecessary The gesture was intended as a shield to render the populists ineffective in the event they managed to pull off an upset. In order to curb the advance of Euroscepticism this time, it was enough to simply share their seats with the centrists and liberals.
The basis of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group has been the alliance of the British Tories and the Polish Law and Justice party, the main pro-American forces in Europe. The Conservative Party was severely punished by voters for trying to sell out on BREXIT, but the Polish ruling party won a decisive victory over the Christian and Social democratic opposition from the “European Coalition”. Nonetheless, it faces the problem of finding partners to keep playing poker with Washington and Brussels– Especially now that the Americans themselves seem interested in switching horses on the Old Continent.
Steve Bannon’s initiative was supposed to be a symbol of this change, although nobody knew exactly what it was or was supposed to be: was this a real attempt to unite populist movements, an examination of the political market before its expected change, or perhaps just a provocation to burn popular politicians (Salvini, Le Pen) as “agents of Washington”? We will likely never know – not only because the success of Eurosceptic parties was ultimately less than expected, but also because Le Pen has officially separated herself from Bannon. It seems more or less evident that the Americans are simply diversifying their interests in Europe.
On the one hand, President Donald Trump all but anointed his European pope Nigel Farage as the real winner with his visit to the UK. The UK is still America’s most advanced experiment of creating a subservient regime in Europe– nonetheless, the details of the situation remain fairly unclear and uncertain. Not only do we not know on what basis BREXIT will come (if it comes at all), we don’t know yet how trade with America will be impacted by the move beyond the privatization of the National Health Service (NHS), which Trump essentially demanded as though he had conquered the country and was negotiating surrender terms. Whoever takes over for Theresa May as Prime Minister, even a hard-Brexiteer like Boris Johnson as expected, will have a very short amount of time to pass a new agreement before the upcoming official “leave” date, making the calendar itself opaque.
At the same time, the election has left Britain even further divided, not only across society but also along its historical borders. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party took the victory with 37.8% as a pro-independence, anti-BREXIT but also anti-American / anti-imperialist formation. The biggest protests against Trump’s visit to the UK took place in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The social-democratic SNP is categorically against the privatization of the NHS and wants to remove nuclear weapons from their country– but also strengthen their ties with Europe. This is one indication that the UK’s turn toward America will be expensive, in the first order, for Britain.
That is likely a part of the reason the Americans would like to use other their tools in Europe if possible. We don’t know much about the relationship between Bannon and Salvini, but there are some indications we might take note of. The Italian Deputy Prime Minister’s European Alliance of Peoples and Nation (EAPN) was created to serve as a rallying point for populists and nationalists, yet this initiative was not supported by the Polish Law and Justice Party, which surprised everyone … except for the Poles, who knew perfectly well that the PiS is just another pro-American European Christian Democratic party that appeals to the population with conservative rhetoric.
Hungary’s FIDESZ has also yet to declare its position, skillfully maneuvering between the Christian Democrats while keeping its other options open– although in the current situation, we can presume that the European People’s Party (EPP) will not be willing to lose its 13 MEPs from Hungary (especially given that they have only a small advantage over the Social Democrats – 179 to 153).
For now, the United States has influence above all in the current ECR group (mainly thanks to Poles and Brits), much more than what will remain in the EFDD after the UK takes its leave. Does this make the Americans the true winners of the EP elections?
In short, not really, considering that the Brussels’ bureaucracy has been more or less successfully defended so far and that the parliament’s new leadership will be selected exactly as it has been in the past, I.E. from a group of retired prime ministers and ministers nominated by establishment groups.
At the same time, however, the elections confirmed that the US still has reliable bridgeheads in Europe in the form of UK and Poland, which can be assigned tasks both within and outside the EU depending on Washington’s current needs.
The election results indicate that the contradictions in Europe are not only political, but also a question of general identity. If Europe is to awaken, it must first overcome the European Union in its present shape: a civilizational project alien to European traditions and focused on participating in the process of globalization by creating a new world culture based on man uprooted. In assuming the role of an ally in the fight against an enemy personified by Brussels and the EC, the United States imposes its own ideology and objectives (despite that they are almost ideologically indistinguishable from the current leadership of Europe, which Washington created and groomed in the first place). The US’ strategy is diametrically opposed to that of Russia and China, who remain faithful to principles of classical diplomacy and geopolitical pragmatism: despite making their position and sympathies clear, they try to make agreements with other governments and authorities as they are, not as they could be if effectively colonized.
The populist movements of Europe are aware of their potential but also understand that even a dying system will not be defeated without active resistance. They face temptation and a serious choice: to accept an implied American offer (without knowing that they will ultimately pay dearly for their ‘deal with the devil’), or to fight alone, wary of Greeks bearing gifts.
Their decision is of fundamental importance for the future of the Old Continent and must be decided in short order, even in the coming decade.
Europe can become an important subject of the multipolar world, transitioning from the increasingly clear decline of the US’ hegemonic dominance… but Washington is likely to try to destroy the Old Continent altogether rather than let it slip from its grasp.
Europe’s potential Eurasian partners, Russia and China, are unlikely to make serious gestures toward Europeans at the present juncture.
This election, if nothing else, made it clear that the path to the (geo)political reorganization of Europe is still attaining victories domestically rather than through the Brussels-based structures that are inoculated from bottom-up influence.
The 9th European Parliament turned out to be far less different from the first 8 as had been expected… that is, unless its opponents make it the last.