Too big, too interfering: The EU will shrink!

Too big, too interfering: The EU will shrink!

On Tuesday, May 27, all European Council members gathered for dinner in Brussels, a mere 48 hours after the seismic results of the European Parliament elections. Most of them had just seen their political base shaken by a huge leap forward of xenophobic and anti-EU parties.

By the end of this long dinner party, there was no name for the president of the European Commission, although some naïve analysts believed there would be one. But the short take is that one winner emerged: David Cameron, the proponent of a more influential U.K. in a less influential EU, and with him the “Euroskeptics.”

The European Parliament elections were indeed a true political seism, which can be more adequately depicted as an addition of specific tremors: Anti-EU feelings in many countries and especially France and the U.K., anti-austerity protests in Greece, Italy and Spain, a xenophobic extreme-right wave in many countries, a defiant move against mainstream parties in France.

Analysts tried to reassure themselves by looking at stable trends: participation was still at 43 percent, mainstream parties – the rightist EPP and the Socialists – still make up the majority in the Parliament, although at a mere 53 percent, the Greens have resisted rather well in most countries.

But the political evidence is there: there is a profound distrust of EU institutions all over Europe.

The distrust stems primarily from fear of the economic crisis, of globalization, of immigration and from the sense that the EU has not helped to secure the future of Europe in a troubled world.

This evolution should be no surprise after some 50 or 60 years of “demonization of Brussels.” The majority of governments, left and right, used the same narrative: “We have imposed on Brussels” or “unfortunately, Brussels has imposed…” depending on the specific situation. The untold part of the story was that “Brussels” meant the Council of Ministers, where every state has a vote and where all decisions are ultimately taken.

Decades of such hypocritical politicking led citizens to believe that, tucked somewhere in Brussels, a bureaucratic monster was imposing policies on powerless member states’ governments. Although this depiction was a blatant institutional fallacy, it drove misperceptions and disillusionment.

Drawing conclusions from the elections

Today, it is impossible for governments not to take into account the massive rise in anti-EU feelings across Europe. While most members of the European Council were destabilized by the elections results, one of them was prompt to pocket the benefits. David Cameron stated in no uncertain terms: “Europe cannot shrug off these results. We need an approach that recognizes that Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs and not try and do so much … We need an approach that recognizes that Brussels has got too big, too bossy, too interfering. We need more for nation states. It should be nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary.”

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Cameron was supported by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who advocated “fewer rules and less fuss from Europe and for Europe to focus on where it can add value,” and is likely to receive support from countries such as Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic. What is more, French President François Hollande added a similar note when he pleaded that the EU “concentrate more on its priorities, show more efficiency where it is needed and not to add things where it is unnecessary.” In other words, there is now a coalition of sorts between Mr. Cameron, who is running behind UKIP, and Mr. Hollande, who is running behind the National Front, and all the other Euroskeptics.
The clear political effect of the European Parliament elections is an “enough with Brussels!” attitude.

Although the political situations in member states differ, the common denominator is now a simple one: EU governments have been rocked by the elections results and will converge on a reduction in the number and depth of EU policies. As a result, the political weight of the Commission will be reduced.

The first implication of the May 27 dinner of the European Council is that Jean-Claude Juncker, the arithmetical winner of the EP elections, is not very likely to become the next Commission president. A veteran Luxembourg politician, he is seen as a first-generation European integrationist and this is clearly not the flavor of the month. The dinner’s predictable outcome was that Herman van Rompuy, the outgoing president of the European Council, is now charged with the mission to look for a suitable candidate.  The elections have also produced an inevitable “grand coalition” in the European Parliament, since neither the EPP nor the Socialists can form a majority without the other. The implication is that the next president of the Commission will have to be either a figure from the right with the appropriate social flavor or a figure from the left with solid liberal economic credentials.

Applicants welcome! Deadline: June 25, for the next European Council meeting.