#Spitzenkandidaten: Mistrust is gaining ground in Europe

| February 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

The wind of enthusiasm blown by the victory of President Emmanuel Macron last June has vanished.  In a historic vote on Wednesday, the European Parliament rejected the innovative idea of transnational lists, which had been one of the cardinal points of Macron’s vision for Europe, writes Daniela Vincenti. 

In what seemed a coup, without precedent, the centre-right pro-European EPP group in the assembly bowed to the Eurosceptic conservative ECR and wiped decades of debates over creating a European public space.  With their vote, they effectively crushed the possible creation of a true European citizenship—turning citizens into not just nationals but also Europeans.

Their take was that in the upcoming elections in 2019, Eurosceptics would hijack the transnational lists and use once again the argument that the system was imposed from the top and proved nothing else that the EU was an ‘elitist’ project  to build a federal superstate.  Arguably, the transnational lists were not the best possible tool but, as someone said, it was a bad good idea, a first step in the right direction.

Architects of European integration – Helmut Kohl and Wilfried Martens, incidentally, both coming from the EPP – lobbied for such an instrument to bring Europeans closer together, despite its flaws.  So, what just happened on Wednesday was nothing else than a mistrust-led power game between some MEPs and EU leaders.

This comes at a time when political forces are witnessing a full display of distrust in the months-long struggle of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a viable government.  The agreement between CDU/CSU and SPD lays their policies down to the last detail.

The deal, which even Merkel calls “small-scale” is not a sign of trust in Germany’s power for renewal, but rather shows that they mistrust each other, the Blacks (CDU/CSU) and the Reds (SPD) – and their party members as well.

A weak Merkel in the European Council can only upset the balance of power within the European Council, allowing Mr Macron to pick up the reins of the soon-to-be 27-country bloc.  That upsets a few in the Parliament, especially since the French President had the audacity to criticise the Spitzenkandidaten process put in place during the 2014 elections.

At at a time of growing intergovernmentalism triggered by the many crises, it is not surprising that MEPs played the red card and voted on Wednesday to maintain the system and regain clout in the political setup.  These are just the latest symptoms of a growing mistrust across Europe – the rule of law in Poland, the growing separatist movements in Catalonia, not to mention Brexit, and the building up of unions within the Union, Visegrád, Club Med.

The Visegrad Four (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia), for example, met on 25 January and made clear they don’t support either the Spitzenkandidaten or the transnational lists. They said the lists could benefit bigger member states, where candidates could receive more votes,  so candidates would have no motivation to campaign in smaller states.

Unless politicians rediscover leadership and refrain from becoming hostage of populistic pressure, there is a risk of losing decades of European construction and falling in a no man’s zone, which will blow the EU a destructive setback.  It is also worth remembering that the prospect of Eurosceptic parties performing strongly in European and national elections has haunted EU officials and pro-Europeans for the last 15 years.

As liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said, a battle was lost but not the war. But the EU is running the risk of being bugged in details that will mine the ‘unity in diversity’ design and fail to see the forest for the trees.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Opinion

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