Monday, 19 May 2014

Europe votes... but what exactly for?

This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday - 18 05 2014

Next weekend Europe will be voting to elect the European Parliament (EP) and indirectly the next President of the EU Commission (although ultimately this has to be chosen by the EU Council who however cannot be disrespectful of the mandate given to Parliament by the electorate).

But what exactly will Europe be voting for?

In Malta the campaign so far has hardly touched on any European issues.   As the saying goes all politics are local and Saturday more than voting to choose our MEPs the electorate will be voting or abstaining to approve or otherwise of government’s performance these last 14 months.

We have not had any discussion about European issues with the exception of the need for a proper burden sharing policy for irregular immigration with a complete revisiting of the voluntary terms of the Dublin agreement.  Otherwise we had no place for discussion about whether the Euro crisis is truly over, whether harsh unemployment in crisis countries can be more urgently and forcefully addressed,  whether the Commission can show more flexibility in applying state aid rules for countries like Malta that are losing their former Objective One status, and whether the EU Commission is paying enough attention to the principle of subsidiarity to respect the traditional democratic will of electorates within their national boundaries.  

The main thrust of PL campaign was to get out the vote of those disgruntled sympathisers who expected their grievances, justified or not irrespectively, to be addressed immediately, and for the PN to unashamedly appeal to such disgruntled sympathisers to use their vote to protest against the government.

Any objective observer would be concerned if there was no disgruntlement from core Labour groupings many of whom expected a quick return to old style politics where Ministers dished out favours, especially jobs and housing, to sustain their electoral base.    Contenting such disgruntled sympathisers would quickly peril our economic and financial sustainability.  Its existence proves that government is putting the national interest before the Party’s political convenience.   Frankly I struggle to remember any government that has achieved so much in so little time.
Such disgruntlement will lead, in the best circumstances, to substantial trimming of PL’s unreal majority registered at last general elections.   This majority will be scaled back further by the return to PN of traditionally blue votes that temporarily turned white or pink at last elections purely to force a change of leadership within the PN.

But in Europe the situation is different.   Especially in the periphery countries that were severely distressed by the financial crisis and had to suffer crushing austerity conditions to be bailed out as their economy and banking systems collapsed, this is the first time that voters can express their democratic dissent without risking self-destruction.

Euro-sceptic parties like Golden Dawn in Greece and Lega Nord and M5*in Italy are expected to gain substantial EP representation.   Voters there will be protesting the lack of solidarity by core countries when against all economic logic they imposed austerity on economies that were already in recession, leading to a lost generation of youth unemployed.

But even in core countries extremism and euro-scepticism is on the rise.  Le Pen’s national Front in France, the Party of Freedom in The Netherlands, UKIP in UK, True Finns in Finland, Alternative for Germany and FPO in Austria  are expected to gain substantial representation which will further undermine the EP’s legitimacy. Marine Le Pen, Gert Wilders and Nigel Farage are considered ‘monsters in Brussels’ and their increased weight in Parliament will unavoidably lead to more concentration of powers in the European Council.  This will be more pronounced if voters’ turnout does not improve on the poor 43% registered in 2009.

A low turnout will underscore the European voters’ doubts about the effectiveness and validity of the EP who many consider as a travelling circus between Brussels and Strasbourg for 751 members from 28 member states who can talk endlessly but practically have no executive or legislative authority.

Next weekend’s election will be a wake-up call for EU leaders to realise that the disconnection between the institutions and the people has grown unsustainably wide.    Efforts to channel re-connection efforts through the EP will be proven failed as the electorate realise that power within the EU is not in the hands of Schultz or Barroso but in the hands of Merkel.  Next weekend Europe’s vote will be a protest vote for having their life dominated by leaders they did not elect whereas leaders they elected are powerless where it really matters.

This will be particularly evident in France where Hollande has failed to deliver what he was elected for, to be a counter-weight to Merkel’s dominance of the EU, representing the interest of southern EU Latin members states and pushing the social market philosophy to soften the extreme conservatism of Merkel who expect to Germanise the EU rather than leading it through a European Germany.   It is not without reason that extreme euro-scepticism will be most pronounced in France.

Voters will be giving their thumbs down to Germany’s handling of the Euro crisis.   Rather than curing problem countries and restoring their economies to health through growth assisted restructuring,  Germany seems to be enjoying the crisis, doing just enough to keep crisis countries alive but  permanently in the sick bay with the least possible cost to German taxpayers.   Germany remains completely insensitive of their social solidarity obligations to share their gains  from the Euro that has maintained their export competiveness which would have been lost of Germany still maintained their own currency.

In Malta we have a small taste of this insensitivity as core EU countries continue to expect us and other southern periphery States to carry the full burden of illegal immigration even though this is essentially a European problem.  

The 50% youth employed in Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus cannot but use next EP elections to voice their dissent.   Hopefully EU leaders will get the message and understand they have to show what Europe really stands for.   Whether we are truly all in this together or whether the EU has become merely a tool for the strong to dominate the poor, to hegemonise Europe through pseudo democratic means where hot and cold wars have failed.



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