Sada El Balad : European Parliament election results reflect the dissatisfaction of voters (طباعة)
European Parliament election results reflect the dissatisfaction of voters
آخر تحديث: الأحد 02/06/2019 10:44 ص Edited By: Nada Moustafa
Yossi Mekelberg
Yossi Mekelberg

Arab News- By: Yossi Mekelberg

If anyone hoped that last week’s European Parliament elections would clear the murky waters of European politics، they set themselves for a disappointment. Voters didn’t exactly produce a decisive result، which could guide their representatives about their expectations، but in not doing so they reflected the confusion of the leaders of this massive experiment in forming a supranational polity. By the time the votes were counted، it surfaced that in the bigger picture the electorate prefers continuity to radical change، though this didn’t stop the specter of ultra-right populism from continuing to creep into mainstream politics. However، there was better news for parties with more coherent messages such the Liberals and Greens، who have done better at the expense of the center right and center left. From local to national and European elections، the main trait is of fragmentation and malaise directed at the inability of the more traditional parties to come up with answers to 21st-century challenges.
There were some sighs of relief that the center، right or left، hasn’t melted down completely. Yet for the first time in the history of European elections، the two major groups، the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D)، cannot together form a majority، losing between them 11 percent of the vote share.
These were also the first European elections to take place in the shadow of Brexit and the refugee crisis that has unsettled large parts of Europe. For decades this political-economic union was seen as a panacea for most countries transiting towards what they hoped would be unabated economic development، the advancement of democratic institutions and human rights، and a guarantee of peaceful relations with their neighbors – outcomes that were diametrically opposed to the course of European history before the European Union. From its beginnings as a loose economic association between a tiny group of countries، the EU has evolved into a union of 28 countries that increasingly resembles a federal system، including the free movement of people between all member states and a single currency for 19 of them.
Relief at the election results shouldn’t turn into complacency. For better or worse، the centrist parties are not out of the woods; they have just got a temporary reprieve. Right-wing populism is here to stay، at least for the time being، and unless other parties with more complex and considered views adjust their policies to the current climate and the concerns of European citizens، they will gradually become marginalized. Look no further than the results in France، Italy and the UK، where right-wing populism did well. In Italy، Matteo Salvini’s Northern League is the outright winner، and together with the Five Star they commanded more than half of the vote. Their sister party in France، Rassemblement National (RN)، led by Marine Le Pen، just edged out French President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche، and in the UK Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won more seats than any other. To be sure، parties committed to strengthening the European Union still hold two-thirds of seats in the EU Parliament، but the trickle not only to the right، but also towards smaller parties and single-issue ones، reflects the shifting attitudes of voters، who would like concrete answers to their daily concerns، whether on immigration، the erosion of sovereignty or climate change.
But however one deciphers the European election results، it is clear that there is a significant disconnect between the momentous project of putting together almost an entire continent under one political، economic and legal system، and the citizens of this project، who don’t necessarily have an emotional attachment to it، nor feel genuinely represented. Most hardly know the names of the people they elect، and though there was an increase in turnout for these elections، it was still barely more than 50 percent. Considering the power the European Parliament has، especially since the Lisbon Treaty was ratified، it is staggering that many more voters are not flocking to the polling stations.
Brexit also took part in the European election. From a European perspective، the very possibility of leaving، though less tempting if one looks at the havoc it has wreaked on the UK، is undermining the foundations of the EU. Until 2016 Europe was moving in one direction only، towards expansion. For a country to vote to leave، and even for Turkey، for instance، to cool its interest in joining the EU، represents a genuine challenge for the future of the union، though it is also an opportunity to assess its direction. The newly formed Brexit Party might have won more seats than any other، but the overall vote leaned towards the Remainers. What clearly emerged is that the British public is becoming increasingly polarized when it comes to Brexit. Though turnout was only 37 percent، those who bothered to vote rewarded parties that either clearly supported leaving the EU، even without a deal، or were outspoken Remainers. Both so-called big parties، the Conservatives and Labour، saw heavy losses، particularly the Conservatives، who suffered a near wipeout in the midst of bringing to a close the dismal premiership of Theresa May، while Labour lost half of the seats it had held in the previous parliament.
The fragmentary outcome of these elections should not be confused in politicians’ minds with the lack of a clear message. It is a message of deep dissatisfaction with them for not addressing their citizens’ most basic concerns and being detached from their experiences، priorities and hardships. It remains to be seen whether the establishment in Brussels is capable of listening، learning and changing.