The European public and politics in Europe
Politics in Europe continues to surprise. Two important elections showed results which were not predicted by public opinion polls. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party has lost its majority and Prime Minister Theresa May has now been forced to form a minority government.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s newly established party “Republique en Marche” is poised to obtain an overwhelming majority in the French Assembly. Contrary to discussions about the likelihood of a new period of “peaceful coexistence” between the executive and the legislative, France is now about to enter into a new phase of perfect harmony between these two powers.
What is the message that has been given by the European electorate? Obviously, democracy gets stronger by change and different shades of political representation. Europeans are not afraid of reflecting their political choices for change at the ballot box, in spite of the challenge of terrorism for domestic stability.
Contrary to the urban legend strongly defended by believers of so-called “political stability,” change does not necessarily bring instability. It brings color, increases respect for the rights of the minority and enhances democracy. It is also a good remedy to the omnipotent monotonous politics of a single political party which begets a self-breeding process of maintaining supremacy. The purpose of the latter, in time, becomes self-sustainability at all costs. Europe does not like it.
In the U.K., the Conservative Party had a relatively comfortable mandate after winning the elections in 2015 with a majority in the British Parliament. The referendum result on Brexit also displayed confidence in the Tory government.
Change in the leadership of the Conservative Party after the Brexit referendum, however, triggered a new discussion. Did the party need a stronger mandate to carry on the Brexit discussions with the EU or not? The election result showed that the British electorate wants the Brexit negotiations to be carried on through a more delicate, balanced and widely represented political platform. The British Parliament will now have stronger control over the minority government of May.
The Conservatives’ “confidence and supply” policy based on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, however, is believed to be a political game full of risks.
Northern Ireland still lacks a government. The political formula of balanced responsibility between the DUP and Sinn Fein created with the Good Friday agreement is going through a serious test. Northern Ireland needs to complete the negotiations for the formation of its new government by the end of June. The DUP’s support for the Conservative Party in Westminster, many argue, could endanger Britain’s impartiality in Northern Ireland’s politics. This increases the challenges, both domestically and externally, facing the new British government.
In France, the second round of parliamentary elections will probably bring about a comfortable majority in the French Assembly for Macron to work with. Although Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale has candidates to run in one-fifth of the constituencies for the second round, this does not pose a serious challenge to Macron’s party.
The test facing France’s new leadership now is not to become spoiled by this overwhelming election victory and shift to the dangerous game of majoritarianism. The French economy needs good management and its recovery will become a new reassurance for the future of the European Union. France will now have to show to fellow Europeans that the challenges of far-right extremism can be neutralized by stronger commitment to egalitarianism and democratic values.
Europeans will now wait for the final episode of their political transformation, namely the parliamentary elections in Germany in September. When it is over, the EU will start to redefine the new terms of reference both domestically and externally. Will Europe gain self-confidence and rise and shine again to become influential in world politics? Well, the European electorate is doing its best to give the hope for such a message. It is now up to the politicians to seize the opportunity.