We will get the results of the European parliament elections in the next day or so.
It’s the first election they’ve had since the refugee crisis, the Brexit referendum, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
There’s a reasonably high chance that the far right are going to increase their share of this Parliament.
Yet the latest Eurobarometer survey shows that almost seven out of ten Europeans, excluding the British, believe that their country has benefited from integration – the highest share since 1983.
That’s a pretty broad mood indicator. But one of the big dividers is across an east-west fault line, with Eastern Europeans tending to trust the political system less than in Western Europeans, so they tend to vote in European elections in lower numbers. Institutional disaffection and low turnout are also pervasive among young Europeans in general, despite the fact that they are more pro-European than the average.
It’s easy to characterise both hard left and hard right parties as beset with a sticky nostalgia; each with their own back-casting a meaning of history for them and their political causes. But the E.U. can now better be framed as “The EU was created by societies that feared the past. Now Europeans fear the future.”
The political parties that are successfully replacing the stable centrist ones are largely highly nationalist and ethnically focussed, or deeply anti-immigration, or indeed both. They are not primarily driven by economic agendas, but by identity and a will to protect existing groups of settled peoples within specific countries.
There have been massive political shifts in Europe since the massive downward shifts in wealth from the Financial Crisis over a decade ago, and the deep austerity programmes from many European governments. Why this did not shock and kick the E.U. into a massive political renewal programme to refresh their actual social mandate, beggars belief.
Instead the common theme of most countries has been national seclusion and a rejection of the immigration that Europe desperately needs to respond to its ageing, socially entitled population, compared to the immigrant countries.
In Denmark, the left gets the necessity of limiting immigration as well.
Brexit is the biggest political counter to this: the alternative to belonging to Europe is a very, very cold and isolated place to be, and it is also the start of real political, social and economic chaos. There is also absolutely no sign that the U.K. Labor Party would have been any better at handling it. The net result will be many E.U. Parliamentarians who will be seeking to actively smash the E.U. from within. The United Kingdom is already shivering and it has barely opened the exit door.
As a result there are not as many anti-Europe parties quite so cocky about leaving Europe as unattached countries any more.
Writing from New Zealand, it’s pretty easy to poke the finger at Europe’s refugee issues when we take so few of them and our parent country Australia shoulders the moral quandaries from resisting them. We all benefit from explicit or implicit anti-immigration discourse, even if New Zealand gets to keep its’ blushes with more adroit diplomatic moves. Opposing uncontrolled immigration is reasonable; turning our backs on our neighbours is not.
But it may be surprising to know that immigration is not the issue that concerns more Europeans. Nope, it’s the economy.
Inequality has been rising across most European countries since the GFC, as well as in most OECD countries including New Zealand. It has simply amazed me that the E.U. has failed to show that massive redistribution of wealth to the poorest within the poorest European countries could result in a renewal of the social contract that sustains the E.U. in the first place.
They must do it. It is the core purpose of the European Parliament to set a budget in the interests of all, and to do so in cooperation with member states.
To me, that is the core job that the European Parliament has to do more convincingly. The best counter to xenophobic ideologies is to increase the popularity of massive social service and wealth redistribution. That is the task of the remaining centre-left and centre-right parties that are sustaining the E.U.
The E.U. has never before had more effective tools for addressing the economic and financial challenges that may arise. And, for all the palaver about xenophobia and its discontents, there’s still a chance that the pro-EU alliance parliamentarians may remain in a majority.
The question is a deep and hard one: is it worth sticking together? Is it worth recommitting? Or is there simply a slow drift in which the core countries such as France and Germany continue to rally the cause of collectivity which is very attractive to the small, the weak and peripheral, but not so attractive to wealthy medium-sized states driven by febrile political fools.
It also doesn’t help that the potential for full-throated political renewal within the electoral system has deserted Gen X and has only started to alight within those generally too young to vote.
That’s a long to time to wait to regain institutional belief in a cross-country representative system.