Lacking any vision, Europhiles, though in the majority, abandon the field to the Europhobes by default.
The European parliamentary election campaign is being derailed from its primary purpose which should be the confrontation of different visions of the Union’s future. It is being unfortunately limited to a binary opposition between parties labelled “pro-European” and those who advocate, more or less openly, reverting to “sovereign” Nation-States, their respective positions being largely based on domestic considerations overshadowing the interests of the Union. No one seems to have paid attention to Martin Selmayr’s warning in Berlin last September: “Make this election a competition for the best solutions for Europe, not a battle for or against Europe”!
The nearly exclusive focus of the Europhile argumentation on the dangers stemming from the rising tide of “national-populism” is an easy excuse to forgo any substantive proposals for Union reform, concerning which there is clearly not the slightest consensus. The superficial justification for this inertia is based on the false pretense that public opinion is not ready to contemplate the necessary Treaty changes to remedy, among others, the obvious democratic deficit of the Union’s current institutional framework or to share sovereignty in matters where only action at EU level is both efficient and credible.
This minimalist configuration of the political debate serves admirably the interests of the Europhobes; they relish the idea of blaming the “democratic” parties, who have managed the Union since its inception, for all its flaws and the current difficulties to which it is confronted. The anticipated strengthening of the Eurosceptic camp will allow it, despite remaining in the minority, to block any significant reform during the new Parliament, thus helping to achieve their long term objectives that an intervening new political, financial or social crisis would only accelerate.
The greed with which the Europhiles have jumped upon the recent “scandals” befalling their opponents underscores by contrast, the paucity of their own offerings. Though these “revelations” demonstrate clearly the existence of wholly inappropriate collusions or indeed outright corrupt behavior, the criticisms of these parties – though fully justified – is not a satisfactory substitute for advancing the case of further integration of the EU. The best that can be expected from such a strategy is to increase the number of citizens abstaining, weakening further the appeal of the European project.
These shortcomings, observable in nearly all pro-European parties, is all the more surprising that recent polls suggest that the Union has never been as popular in public opinion! This may indicate that popular “common sense” has fully integrated the dangers of the current growing geopolitical tensions which require, more than ever, a response at Union level for managing the challenges of the climate, the economy, trade, defense, immigration, etc.
Why is it that Europhiles seem to be tarred with the same brush as the Europhobes in as much as they both seem only to find agreement “AGAINST” : against the “national-populists” for the former and against the Union for the latter?
The answer may lie in the perception that the EU is an elitist project that benefits the educated and privileged classes. A program advocating further integration as a means to shield the ordinary citizen confronted with an ever more hostile world, would collide directly with the privileges of three specific groups of citizens who are well placed to protect their jobs and status by refusing – without compromising themselves – any further progress towards a more efficient Union.
It concerns the political class, the corporation of senior civil servants and the media sector. There exists already an unhealthy clannish understanding between these three groups(1) which share a distant relationship with the “real” world as well as an arrogant – if not contemptuous – rapport with the middle and popular classes. This was clearly demonstrated in France, where they proved totally incapable to anticipate the movement of the “Yellow Jackets” or to provide solutions in its aftermath.
It is precisely these three groups that would see their jobs and status imperiled by the implementation of a Union along more federalist lines. Indeed, it would entail dispensing with many powerful political and administrative positions, in particular within the Ministries depositary of sovereign powers such as defense, foreign affairs, monetary policy and economic affairs, etc. Similarly centralizing these powers would weaken the content of “national” news broadcasts leading to the likely restructuring of the media sector and weakening the system of “national” stars it feeds.
Under these conditions, it is easy to understand the reticence of the existing powers to change the treaties so as to conform the Union’s institutional architecture to a template capable of providing its citizens with the protections they are entitled to expect from their elected political masters. This thoroughly egoistical attitude is highly dangerous and represents a challenge for the Union’s survival at least as deadly as the resurgence of national-populism whose propagation it feeds.
For the immense majority of citizens, be they a plumber in Naples, a baker in Nantes of a lorry driver in Warsaw, it is of scant importance that defense, foreign affairs, the economy, the currency, immigration etc., are national or European competencies as long as they feel adequately protected. It is also becoming apparent that these “common goods” are only deliverable efficiently at European level. Falling back on the Nation-State will, inevitably, lead to the vassalization of these countries to foreign major powers and reducing them – contrary to their avowed yearning for “national sovereignty” – to the status of “Satellite” reminiscent of the post war Soviet Union Empire.
Despite President Macron’s affirmation to the contrary, the future of the EU is not tributary to his party beating the Rassemblement National in the forthcoming elections. The result, forgetting its symbolic significance in France, will have no influence on the shape of the European Parliament. On the other hand, refusing to tackle the challenges ahead (Treaty change, completion of EMU, devising an EU immigration policy, policing the exterior borders of the Union, fighting climate change, etc.) while waiting for the next crisis to break, is the surest path to ensure the ultimate victory of the nationalists and witness the collapse of all the efforts undertaken since 1945 to avoid the reoccurrence of armed conflict in Europe.
(1) For an emblematic example of the cosy relationship between politics and media see: